Venerable Victoria Park dusts off the lanterns and gears up for another colourful Mid-Autumn Festival.
Hong Kong had a green space along the lines of London’s Hyde Park or Central Park in Manhattan, it would be Victoria Park. Though covering just 19 hectares in the heart of Causeway Bay, since its opening in 1957 Victoria Park has become a gathering point for art, culture, politics and leisure for all stripes of Hongkonger. It has served as the starting point for parades, played host to Hong Kong’s rare outdoor concerts on its central lawn, and been used as a general marketplace depending on the occasion. In the space constrained SAR it is the go-to location for residents who want to take a swim in the city’s first public pool, play some pick-up basketball or casual football, hone their tennis skills — or watch a pro tournament like the Hong Kong Open — or just stroll through the gardens as senior citizens practice their tai chi. Thanks to the area’s small business owners, students and diverse residents, including those in the new serviced apartments in The Mercury just down the road, Victoria Park never feels isolated.
Second only to the Lunar New Year in significance, the Mid-Autumn Festival is an occasion for gathering together the family, giving thanks for a bountiful harvest, and doling out wishes for good fortune in the form of marriages, babies, longevity and prosperity. Celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month — landing relatively early this year on September 24 — the Mid-Autumn Festival (or Harvest, Lantern or simply Moon Festival) is said to date back to the 17th century BCE Shang Dynasty, but the best known origin story relates to the omnipresent mooncake and the establishment of the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century.
...the Mid-Autumn Festival is an occasion for gathering together the family, giving thanks for a bountiful harvest, and doling out wishes for good fortune in the form of marriages, babies, longevity and prosperity.
Legend has it that rebellion under Mongolian rule led to the creation of the cakes during the full moon, which had messages regarding battle plans baked into them. Rebels passed the cakes — and the messages — among each other, and as such the Ming was established on a full moon. It is the reason mooncakes are still given as gifts, whether in their traditional egg and lotus seed form or in contemporary ice cream or vegan varieties.
Almost every neighbourhood in Hong Kong celebrates Mid-Autumn somehow; the Fire Dragon Dance in nearby Tai Hang is particularly notable.
But nowhere is the occasion more vivid than in Victoria Park. Where lanterns were traditionally used to symbolise fertility, now they’re used purely for creativity, and Victoria Park’s display of Chinese zodiac animals, pandas, cartoon characters and more, is the grandest in the city — and arguably the world. Alongside fortune telling, games, traditional shows, dragon dances and, of course, food, the lanterns are an exemplar of Hong Kong’s singular personality: combining heritage and modernity.