Header image courtesy of Wong Wai Ping (Discover Hong Kong)
There are many things that we love about Hong Kong, one of which, is all the great holidays and festivals we get to enjoy all year round. Not only do we celebrate major Western holidays such as Easter, Halloween, and of course, Christmas, but we also get to go all out when it comes to traditional Chinese festivals! From an old folktale about a pair of star-crossed lovers to a festival that will have you scrambling for some tasty buns, here is everything you need to know about all the biggest traditional Chinese festivals in Hong Kong.
You know it’s Chinese New Year when everywhere you look is covered in red and gold decorations. Celebrating the first day of the year in the traditional Lunar calendar, the holiday usually takes place between late January and mid-February. Bringing city dwellers a burst of festivities such as dragon dancing, fireworks, flower markets, and an unmissable night parade, this festival is by far one of the most loved traditions in Hong Kong—and it’s not just because of all the public holidays!
When: 25 to 28 January 2020
The Ching Ming Festival, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day, is a day reserved for Hongkongers to pay respects to their ancestors. This is done so by visiting their resting place and sweeping the tombs, clearing away any weeds, dirt, and trash that may have gathered over time. After cleaning the tombs, many people leave offerings such as fruits, flowers, or even traditional Chinese wine, before lighting incense at the end for their loved ones.
When: 4 April 2020
Falling on the fifth to the ninth day of the fourth Lunar month, the Cheung Chau Bun Festival first came about in the Qing dynasty, when the small island went under an unfortunate plague attack. To ward off evil spirits that the islanders believed to be the cause, parading statues of traditional deities were placed throughout the island, while Taoist rituals were performed in front of the Pak Tai Temple, in hopes that the God of North, Pak Tai, would come and save them. Lo and behold—the plague ended shortly after. From then on, the people of Cheung Chau continued performing such rituals every year to give thanks to Pak Tai. The festival has since turned into a full-blown funfest where visitors can come to watch the colourful parade, lion dancing, and of course, the one and only Bun Scrambling Competition.
When: 27 April to 1 May 2020
Note: The 2020 edition of the Bun Scrambling Competition has been scrapped.
Despite all the fun and excitement of the Dragon Boat Festival—or Tuen Ng Festival in Cantonese—this holiday actually first began as a way of commemorating the death of Qu Yuan, one of China’s greatest poets. After being falsely accused of treason and banished from the ancient state of Chu during the Zhou Dynasty, Qu eventually committed suicide by jumping into the Miluo River. Hearing this news, many people who admired him rushed to the river in dragon boats, while repeatedly hitting the drums and paddling in the water, in hopes to scare off any evil spirits that try to take Qu’s body. People also threw zongzi (sticky rice dumplings) into the river to feed and divert the fishes, so that they would not eat Qu’s corpse, allowing him to die in peace and dignity.
When: 25 June 2020
We all adore a good love story, and this one is perhaps the most classic of all. The Seven Sisters Festival—or Chinese Valentine’s Day, as many locals refer to it—tells the tale of a cowherd and the weaver goddess. There are many variations to this story, but they all go a little something like this: When the cowherd and weaver goddess fell in love with each other, the gods were not pleased. Thus, they cruelly separated the lovers across a Milky Way. Touched by their tragic love story, a flock of magpies would come every year to form a bridge across the Milky Way, allowing the two to meet on the seventh day of the seventh Lunar month.
Even though this is not an official holiday in Hong Kong, it’s still a great excuse for lovebirds to celebrate this day! Over time, the festival has evolved into one of general wish-making. Some young romantics have been known to make the pilgrimage to Lovers’ Rock on Bowen Road in Wan Chai to make additional offerings. The festival is also celebrated in Peng Chau, an outlying island of Hong Kong, at the Seven Sisters Temple.
When: 25 August 2020
If the thought of ghosts and ghouls excite you, then you’ll love the Hungry Ghost Festival. On the first day of the seventh month (also known as Ghost Month) in the Lunar calendar, it is believed that the Gates of Hell fling wide open, allowing spirits of our ancestors to roam around on Earth among us. You can usually tell it’s that time of the year when you begin to see people burning faux money in tin containers, lighting incense, and laying out offerings such as food on the streets to “feed” their ancestors.
When: 2 September 2020
Falling on the fifteenth day of the eighth Lunar month, the Mid-Autumn Festival is one of Hong Kong’s biggest and most beloved celebrations—and rightly so. With beautiful lanterns filling up local parks, fire dragon dancing, and sweet, delicious mooncakes taking front and centre stage, this holiday brings a slew of fun cultural activities around the city for everyone to enjoy.
When: 1 October 2020
Photo credit: Kin Cheung (Reuters)
Similar to the Ching Ming Festival in April, the Chung Yeung Festival is when Hong Kong families congregate at cemeteries to engage in age-old practices of ancestor worship by cleaning graves, repainting inscriptions, and laying out food offerings. Also known as the Double Ninth Festival, it is a popular custom to hike to the city’s high points on this day to welcome good fortune.
According to one of many folktales, this custom is rooted in a legend whereby a man consulted a divine deity about an epidermic that regularly breaks out along the banks of the river Ru, killing many people. As advised by the deity, the man took all his fellow villagers, both young and old, with him to a nearby mountain on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. He then returned to the village with a weapon presented to him by the divine deity and killed the demon spreading the epidemic.
When: 25 October 2020
The Winter Solstice Festival marks the day when we officially enter winter, and it is also the shortest day of the year. Many people in Hong Kong place high importance on this day, as the festival calls for families around the city to gather and celebrate together over a meal. Usually, a lavish and sumptuous dinner is on the cards, and for dessert, tong yuen (glutinous sweet rice dumplings) is a must-have as it represents ‘togetherness’ or ‘reunion.’ The best thing about the festival? Everyone gets to leave work a couple of hours early so that all you busy bees out there can get back to their families on time.
When: 21 December 2020