Mid-Autumn Festival in Hong Kong: Traditions, Lanterns and Moon Cakes

Here’s everything you need to know about the Hong Kong Mid-Autumn Festival.

Hong Kong people love festivals – this city observes everything from Easter to Buddha’s birthday. The Mid-Autumn Festival – also known as the Moon Festival, Moon Cake Festival, and Lantern Festival (not to be confused with the Spring Lantern Festival) – is a traditional harvest festival celebrated by East and Southeast Asians.

One of the most important spiritual days in Hong Kong and China, Mid-Autumn Festival dates back thousands of years and is the second in cultural significance after the Lunar New Year. It traditionally falls on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunisolar calendar, a night when the moon is fuller and brightest, just in time for the fall harvest season.

The Mid-Autumn Festival in Hong Kong is a public holiday (or at least the day after Chinese mid-autumn). This year, it falls on Tuesday, September 21 – expect plenty of freebies, lantern lighting (and the appearance of noisy plastic lamps), glow sticks, family dinners, and of course, party favors. moon cakes.


Japanese ukiyo-e print “Chang’e flies towards the moon” from the Hundred Aspects of the Moon series by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

Honoring the fall harvest dates back to the Shang Dynasty (the oldest checked in Chinese ruling dynasty), but it is believed to have gained popularity as a celebratory festival in the early Tang period and was officially designated on a specific day (the 15th of the 8th month) in the Song Dynasty North.

There are many legends associated with mid-autumn, spanning different cultures and peoples, but the most frequently cited tale is “Chang’e flies to the moon”:

Hero Hou Yi, an excellent archer, shot nine of the ten suns that fell on the earth, leaving only one for the light. As a reward, he received an elixir of immortality. But when one of his apprentices broke into his house and tried to take the elixir, Yi’s wife Chang’e swallowed the potion. She began to float in the sky and landed on the moon, becoming the moon goddess. Her devastated husband honored her by laying out fruits and cakes that she loved as offerings every night.

There are alternate versions, including one where Chang’e steals her husband’s elixir after he becomes a tyrannical ruler and one where she is simply greedy and steals him out of selfishness. In all versions, Chang’e drinks the liquid, becomes immortal, and reaches the moon.


The most important part of the festival is getting together with your loved ones, giving thanks and praying. In ancient times, traditional moon worship included praying to moon deities (including Chang’e) for health and wealth, making and eating moon cakes, and lighting colorful lanterns at night. Some people even wrote their wishes on the lanterns and made them fly in the sky or float them in the rivers.

In Hong Kong, the festivities include lantern displays, carnivals and performances. Tai Hang’s Fire Dragon Dance is over 140 years old and dates back to 1880 when the villagers of Tai Hang performed the ritual to ward off a plague. For three nights, a dragon woven from grass and straw covered with lighted incense sticks is woven through the village accompanied by dancers and lanterns. Unfortunately, this year’s dance has been canceled due to the ongoing pandemic.

Another centuries-old tradition is the lighting of lanterns at Tai O Village, where the streets of the stilt fishing town are illuminated with beautiful, handmade lanterns of all shapes and sizes. Due to an influx of visitors this weekend, the Lantern Festival has been suspended this year.

moon cakes

With the current restrictions in place, you can make the most of the night by:

Happy mid-autumn!

(Hero and featured image courtesy of Samuel M. Nickerson Collection, Art Institute of Chicago via Wikimedia Commons, Image 1 courtesy of the United States Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons, Image 2 with courtesy of Shangri-La)

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