Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mid-Autumn Festival: our third time around

School has just started and already it is holiday time here in Hong Kong. We have some time off from school and a public holiday as well to celebrate the mid-autumn festival. This festival, a harvest festival of sorts, falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month and thus can come anytime between mid-September and early October. Our previous two mid-autumn festivals have been at the very end of September, so this one on September 14th does seem early and as the weather is still quite hot, not very autumn like at all.

The mid-autumn festival is also known as the moon festival, going back 3,000 years to ancient Chinese moon worship. Nowadays folks typically gather with family and friends at look at the full moon. The Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong Island, is a popular somewhat touristy place to spend the mid-autumn festival. I have always wanted to get us up there to see both the moon and all the people walking around with lanterns lit by candle flame. But after Phil mentioned that the Peak Tram, the tram that most people take up to the Peak, was putting up more crowd patrol, adding more departures to accommodate the crowds, I re-considered.

For the second year in a row, we celebrated the holiday at our local beach, Stanley Main Beach. It is minutes from our apartment and reachable via our free apartment run shuttle bus. We packed up a picnic dinner, gathered some friends and procured a large quantity of the day-glo sticks and necklaces that have more or less replaced actual candles at the beach these days. Our local beach was really packed this year. Last year the holiday was on a a week day. The beach was quiet and mainly filled with our expat friends. I remember Tori remarking “Is this a holiday for Chinese people too?” This year the holiday fell on a Sunday and the beach was packed with local and foreign folks, including “helpers,” Fillipina domestic workers who have every Sunday off. It was hard to find room to put our beach blanket down but the whole holiday had a much more festive air.

In addition to being called the moon festival, this holiday also goes by the name lantern festival. Many families light candles and light candles inside of lanterns to shine at the moon. We of course do not celebrate with any flame. The other name of this holiday is the moon cake festival. Again, we don’t really participate in this part of the holiday either. Moon cakes are a little like Western-style fruitcakes but made of melon seeds, lotus seeds, minced meats and bean paste with a golden yolk from a salted duck egg in the middle. Adam and Royce made moon cakes out of clay at school this year but that was as close as we got to them. Instead of the ancient rites, we seem to be forging our own mid-autumn festival traditions. For yet another year, the kids swam way out in the ocean, well past our comfort zone and then ran around a very crowded beach at night. Some might call it maniac but we are choosing to call it festive and even traditional now as we hit the year three mark.


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