Guide to Hong Kong festivals
There’s no doubting the significance of Chinese New Year. Like most festivals here, it’s an amalgamation of commercialism and culture – think the Cathay Pacific Parade and the more down-to-earth Victoria Park Flower Market. Nevertheless, you can head to Wong Tai Sin Temple for a somewhat more tranquil way to ring in the new year, with incense sticks and prayers to pave the way for an auspicious year ahead.
Ching Ming Festival, otherwise known as Tomb Sweeping Festival, isn’t your regular solemn sacrificial ceremony but a joyous occasion that welcomes the arrival of spring. On this day, people head to cemeteries to sweep their ancestor’s graves and provide offerings of fresh food, flowers and incense. Afterwards, you might see people flying kites, picnicking and simply enjoying the outdoors. After all, Ching Ming Festival also represents the coming of the new season.
For this celebration, Buddhists head to temples and pour water over statues of Buddha, a ritual to cleanse their soul. You’ll also see a plethora of lit lanterns around Hong Kong symbolising enlightenment as well as altars adorned with offerings and incense. Wong Tai Sing Temple is the place to be on this day but pop along to Victoria Park for an even bigger event, with meditation classes, vegetarian food, carnival games and a flower show dedicated to Buddha.
Image: Bailey Cheng/Flickr
Paper effigies, scintillating costumes and a massive tower covered in buns – these are just some of the highlights of the annual Cheung Chau Bun Festival. Every year on Buddha’s Birthday, thousands of worshippers make a pilgrimage to Cheung Chau for this boisterous Taoist celebration. The buns represent peace and harmony and the famous bun competition remains the pinnacle of the festival.
Relatively unknown outside of Hong Kong, Tin Hau Festival celebrates the birthday of Tin Hau, goddess of the sea. It falls on the 23rd day of the third lunar month. For the city’s most honoured deity, worshippers young and old head to Tin Hau temples – there are more than 70 in the city – to join in colourful parades with kung fu troupes, marching bands and lion dances. These festivities ensure calm seas and abundant fish stocks for the coming year.
While other festivals force you to eschew your diet, this one requires a lot more calories if you go all-in and join a competitive team. The event sees dragon boat races taking place all over Hong Kong. The origins of the festival start with the suicide of Chinese scholar Qu Yuan some 2,000 years ago. Locals attempted to save him by paddling down into the river he drowned in – hence the dragon boats.
Burning incense and ritual offerings aren’t unusual in Hong Kong, but as it gets closer to Hungry Ghost Festival, the sight becomes a lot more common. Legend has it that around this time the gates to hell open, unleashing ghosts to wander the streets. People try to appease these ghosts and honour their ancestors with offerings of paper replicas of iPhones, money and designer accessories. All kinds of taboos surround this fest, from not swimming at night (because a ghost might drown you) to not leaving your clothes out to dry in case a ghost tries them on.
In Chinese culture, the moon symbolises unity and love. Mid-Autumn Festival – which falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month when the moon is at its fullest – embodies just that. Before the big day is even close, you’ll be bombarded with millions of mooncake ads everywhere. Come the day itself, all kinds of festivities commence around town, most notably the Victoria Park Lantern Display and the extravagant Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance featuring a 220ft-long dragon, 300 performers and 70,000 incense sticks and firecrackers.
Often confused with Ching Ming Festival, Chung Yeung Festival occurs in autumn rather than spring and is a commemoration for people’s ancestors. On this day people visit the graves and columbaria of their families to pay their respects. It’s also believed that picnicking or hiking to the city’s highest points will help bring about good luck.
The celebrations for All Hallow’s Eve seem to get bigger and bigger each year. While trick-or-treating is not really part of the culture here, if you’re keen on keeping your spirits (pun intended) up, you might want to visit Disneyland or Ocean Park, which host chilling, hair-raising experiences every year. Think haunted mansions, villainised rides and creepy characters roaming the streets. For a more adult affair, strut down Lan Kwai Fong and show off your risqué costume. Bars and clubs will usually have special deals – and freaky décor – so keep an eye out for those.
While not a Chinese festival, Hong Kong has fully embraced the craze of Christmas. During this time, the city looks a little more magical than usual, especially in Statue Square where a giant Christmas tree always stands. There are shopping sales, New Year’s Eve fireworks to look forward to and even more festivities in theme parks and shopping malls across town. Head down to Central Harbourfront for the regular AIA Great European Carnival for fun winter-themed rides and game stalls.