In Fall (or Autumn) in South China, the blazing heat of summer starts to subside and the people breathe easy again. On the 15th of the 8th Lunar Month (generally September), a festival begins to celebrate the moon and the Autumn season. It’s a festival full of lanterns, mooncakes, and even a dragon made of incense. This is the Autumn Equinox: when night and day are in balance, when the moon is as round and as full as the sun, and when people give thanks for the harvest. Considering Thanksgiving in November is strictly a North American phenomenon, I figured this is a close enough analogue to families coming together and eating customary foods.
The foremost of all of these is the Mooncake: a humble little cake that has a fancy design on it. Generally, there’s ads for fancy gift boxes plastered all over the subway stations around this time of year and every bakery has some form of mooncake. Personally, I tried the lotus root paste version with sweet red bean. My palate doesn’t like those flavors. Nevertheless, it was a good experience to share with my team at work and seeing everyone enjoying good food and camaraderie. In the North, the weather starts getting cold, so the mooncakes up there are generally filled with some meat, though you can find the lotus root or nut versions pretty much anywhere.
Unique little cakes aside, one of the main draws of the festival is the lantern festival. I had decided to go to Hong Kong for this event, as some of my co-workers were also planning on attending. In an area of Hong Kong known as Causeway Bay, there’s a park named Victoria Park. It’s amazing how British Hong Kong still is, even after so many years of becoming a part of China. In this park there was a multi-day festival of lanterns. As far as the eyes could see, there were intricate paper lanterns lit with candles and other lights. An assortment of colors bringing a warm glow to the blue early evening light.
It’s a magical scene, with so many twinkling lights and creative rice paper lanterns. The whole park with children, families, couples young and old all meandering through the exhibits and enjoying the cool autumn breeze. There were so many stalls explaining traditional Cantonese culture, the legends of the Moon, and, of course, plenty of food. No Chinese festival would be complete without some sort of sustenance. Another mainstay of any good festival is some sort of music or performance arts. There was a live children’s orchestra with a mix of traditional Chinese instruments and traditional orchestra instruments, much like Hong Kong’s own populous.
What really drew us all to this festival was the oft-talked about Fire Dragon Festival. Just down the road from Victoria Park, there’s a road called the “Fire Dragon Path” and we knew that tonight would be the night for this magical event. Excitedly, we made our way across the bridge towards the crowds forming around a closed off street. In the distance, there was a simple drum beat being played and the smell of smoke was faintly in the air. The fire dragon was nearing.