Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Lantern Light

I returned to Hong Kong just in time for the celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival, an annual celebration of the full moon in autumn that seeks a good harvest for the coming year. In today’s urban Hong Kong, the tradition remains, even though crops are nowhere to be seen.

This year, the lunar-driven festivities coincided with China National Day, giving people a rare four-day weekend. As usual in this shopping mecca, it meant that malls were jammed on Monday and Tuesday!
This year’s celebration in Hong Kong was marred by a ferry collision, taking the lives of almost 40 people who were on a cruise to see the fireworks in Victoria Harbour. It was a sad ending to a weekend of pleasure.

Most Hong Kongers, however, had a much more benign holiday.  There is an ages-old tradition of parading with lit lanterns, reminiscent of the moon, and on Sunday evening, the park near my apartment was full of light. The government has urged people not to follow the old tradition of using lanterns lit with real candles, so the effect was different than it would have been 100 years ago. Instead, people used neon light sticks to create 3-D decorations, and the park shone with multicoloured slashes of light. I did see a number of traditionally designed lanterns, made of silk, but they, too, had LEDs or lightbulbs inside. Some of the families picnicking on the grass adhered to tradition; lighting candles set in metal containers to contain any flames or melted wax.  

It’s a family holiday, and it was charming to see families out together to enjoy the occasion.

On Monday, I made my way to Tai Hang, a village of old that has long since been incorporated into the Tin Hau area of the city. Legend states that the villagers fought off the bubonic plague by performing a  fire-dragon dance, so the residents stage dance to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival. I arrived to the sonorous sounds of an Asian drum and joined the throng lining the streets. Soon, there was a parade of men carrying silk lanterns on poles, escorted by young girls dressed in traditional silk jackets and pants, wearing embroidered headdresses and carrying lotus-shaped lanterns.
The anticipation built and built, and finally, we were treated to the sight of the fire dragon, a 67-metre-long snakelike creature with a dragon’s head, carried on poles spaced along its length. Its spine was covered with hundreds and hundreds of sticks of lit incense, creating the fire. The men carrying the dragon danced along the street, edging towards the crowds and dipping the dragon scarily. Spectators like me loved it!



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