International and modern as it may be, Hong Kong has never lost touch with its traditions, and you too can get a taste of the city’s customs no matter when your visit is planned. With Chinese festivals celebrated throughout the year, this is how fun-loving Hongkongers keep their heritage alive.
Hong Kong’s maritime heritage ensures that Tin Hau, Goddess of the Sea and patron saint of fishermen, has a strong and loyal following here. On her birthday, locals flock to the more than 70 temples in the city dedicated to her to pray for safety, security, fine weather and full fishing nets during the coming year. So enduring is the reverence for Tin Hau that this festival is even celebrated by many young people who are more likely to see a fish in a restaurant than on a trawler. Check out the three-hour parade in Yuen Long as well as festivities at Tin Hau Temple in Joss House Bay, the oldest in Hong Kong.
One of the city’s most spectacular festivals marks the end of spring, when thousands of visitors ferry over to the tiny, serene island for the Cheung Chau Bun Festival. Comprising the piu sik parade with children dressed up as deities paraded on stilts, lion dances, Taoist festivals and the exciting Bun Scrambling Competition, the festivities are on China’s national list of intangible cultural heritage. Everything from the buns to the 14-metre-tall bamboo towers are prepared by the local community, so this is a uniquely Hong Kong festival through and through.
Summer in Hong Kong kicks off with the Insta-worthy Dragon Boat Festival. Celebrated all over China, the festival commemorates Qu Yuan, a Chinese national hero who drowned himself in protest against corrupt rulers. The Hong Kong version has the added benefit of being set against the beautiful Victoria Harbour skyline, as colourful dragon boats slice through the harbour in a race between international paddlers at the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Carnival. Don’t miss the picturesque Dragon Boat Water Parade of Tai O, where deity statues are put on sacred sampans and towed by the dragon boats in a parade through the waters of Tai O to pacify the wandering water ghosts.
As the round shape symbolises unity in Chinese culture, the full moon marks the perfect time for families to get together, which is how Mid-Autumn Festival has been celebrated since the early Tang dynasty (618–907). To many, this is considered to be one of the most important festivals of the year. Highly urbanised Hong Kong still celebrates this holiday and does so in style, with a vast variety of mooncakes made with everything from salted egg yolk to ice cream. For those looking for a visual extravaganza, head to Tai Hang for the spectacular fire dragon dance, and keep an eye out for lantern displays around the city.