There’s always something interesting going on in Hong Kong but this month is looking particularly action-packed. As part of 2012’s spirited Cultural Celebrations – taking place from 13-29 April – the islands will be celebrating four fascinating traditional Chinese festivals; the birthdays of Tin Hau, Lord Buddha and Tam Kung and the Cheung Chau Bun Festival – so expect to see colourful parades, processions, dragon dances, Kung Fu demonstrations and, of course, mountains of delicious food…
Birthday of Tin Hau – April 13
The birthday of Tin Hau – goddess of the seas – is celebrated by both fishermen and sporting clubs associated with Kung Fu and other martial arts practitioners. Tin Hau is believed to have been able to save people from shipwrecks by forecasting the weather, so fishermen visit temples to make offerings and hold a variety of celebrations asking for fine weather and safe passage. The 23rd day of the third lunar month is designated as the birthday of Tin Hau.
There are more than 70 temples around Hong Kong dedicated to Tin Hau, so various celebrations are held during her birthday. One of the largest takes place at the oldest Tin Hau Temple at Joss House Bay in Sai Kung, where a colourful parade of decorated boats sails towards the temple, carrying worshippers and Fa Pau (floral wreath), constructed by each village. Drum and gong-accompanied lion dances are also performed.
Cheung Chau Bun Festival – April 22-29
The annual Cheung Chau Bun Festival celebrates the god Pak Tai, and is unique to the tiny island of Cheung Chau. The festival is named for the enormous towers of buns erected just outside the Pak Tai Temple, where the main celebrations are held.
In the late Qing dynasty (1644-1912) Cheung Chau was devastated by a plague. Local residents created a sacrificial altar in front of Pak Tai Temple to pray to the god (in a ceremony known as ‘Jiao’), in an attempt to ward off evil spirits. It’s said that after the islanders paraded the deity’s statue through the village lanes, the plague came to an end. Ever since, Cheung Chau locals have organised an annual Bun Festival to express thanks to the god for blessing and protecting them.
The weeklong festival climaxes with a huge, carnival-like procession featuring lion dances and costumed children on stilts held above the crowd. The parade snakes through narrow streets to the grounds near Pak Tai Temple, which are overshadowed by enormous bamboo towers studded with sweet white buns. Then at midnight, athletes scramble up the sides in a race to get one of the highest buns on the tower, thought to be the luckiest.
Birthday of Lord Buddha – April 28
The birthday of Lord Buddha is a celebration of great spiritual significance in Hong Kong’s Buddhist temples. On this day, at Buddhist temples across the territory, worshippers show their devotion by bathing Buddha’s statue, with celebrations taking place at all the major monasteries in Hong Kong. Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, home to the world’s largest, seated, outdoor bronze Buddha, draws the biggest crowds.
Legend has it that nine dragons sprayed water to bathe the baby Buddha at birth, and to commemorate this, worshippers take part in this unique bathing ritual which is believed to aid in the purification of one’s soul. If you visit Po Lin Monastery during this time, you can take part in the Bathing the Buddha ceremony and enjoy striking Kung Fu performances by Shaolin monks, along with some incredible face-changing performances.
Birthday of Tam Kung – April 28
The birthday of Tam Kung is only celebrated in Hong Kong and is second in importance to the birthday of Tin Hau. Considered to have supernatural powers, and another patron saint of seafarers, Tam Kung brings joy and security to all fishermen. Not surprisingly, his birthday is celebrated with enthusiastic devotion and fanfare at the Tam Kung Temple in Shau Kei Wan on Hong Kong Island. Similar to the Tin Hau festivities, the fishermen celebrate in order to secure safety and good luck during the coming year.