February 10 — The Year of the Snake
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The most popular legend surrounding the origin of Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, revolves around a great beast called Nian. In Putonghua, nian means year.
On the eve of Lunar New Year, Nian — whose mouth was so huge it could swallow people en masse — would prey on human beings. Everyone was terrified, until one day an elderly man appeared and offered to subdue the monster.
The old man then challenged Nian: I've heard you are very capable, but instead of people, can you swallow other beasts of prey that are more worthy opponents? Rising to the occasion, Nian swallowed other predators, simultaneously ridding people of dangers to themselves and their livestock.
The old man was then revealed to be a god. Before riding off on the back of the now-tamed Nian, the old man advised the people to put up red paper decorations on their windows and doors, light torches and set off firecrackers at the end of each year. This would frighten Nian away should he try to return, for he was afraid of the colour red, fire-light and loud noises. With Nian gone and other predators frightened off, people resumed lives of peace.
Nowadays, Chinese hold red to be a colour of happiness and good fortune, while firecrackers are lit to ward off evil spirits.
February 11 — Che Kung was a general in the Sung Dynasty. He was advanced to the level of a Taoist deity for saving the people of Sha Tin Valley in the New Territories from a plague.
Each year, on the 2nd or 3rd day of the Lunar New Year, believers head to his temple to wish him a happy birthday. Those seeking Che Kung's good fortune stop by to see the fortune tellers, who will spin a wheel of fortune three times to ensure good luck for the year ahead.
February 24 — Also known as Chinese Valentine's Day, this festival marks the end of the Lunar New Year celebrations.
Colourful lanterns in traditional designs are displayed in many places. Single people play games with their lanterns in the hopes of finding a partner.
March 24 — The Hung Shing Festival celebrates the birthday of Hung Shing Tai Wong, God of the Southern Sea, on the 13th day of the second lunar month.
Hung Shing was a government official named Hung Hei during the Tang dynasty. A governor of Panyu, he was knowledgeable in astronomy and geography and helped merchants and fishermen with his ability to forecast the weather. Legend has it that Hung Shing continued to guard the people against natural disasters even after his death.
To honour this deity, fishermen along the South China coast built temples to worship him.
April 4 — The Festival of Pure Brightness, Ching Ming (Clear and Bright) is an ancient form of ancestor worship. Families sweep graves, clean the headstones and re-paint inscriptions, replace flowers and light incense.
Imitation paper money, known as Hell Money — the word Hell meaning afterlife, as opposed to the Christian concept — is burned for ancestors to use.
Families also offer fruit, rice, dim sum, chicken, and pork, and place three sets of chopsticks and three cups of wine above the food and closest to the marker. Ching Ming is a time of communion, when families seek blessings from previous generations.
May 2 — Those who make their living from the sea celebrate Tin Hau's (Goddess of the Sea) birthday to bring them safety, good weather, security and good catches during the year.
Fishermen plaster their boats with colourful ribbons to thank the goddess for her favour in the past, and to pray for good luck again in the future.
Paper flowers, known as fa pau, are offered during the celebration procession.
May 17 — Followers of Buddha take turns giving Buddha's statue a bath.
All major temples and monasteries in Hong Kong celebrate during this festival, including Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, where the world's second-largest, seated, outdoor bronze Buddha sits atop Ngong Ping.
May 14-18 — Near Pak Tai Temple on the island of Cheung Chau, tall bamboo towers are covered the likenesses of three gods and sweet buns.
A huge procession winds through the streets, with children wearing stilts and dressed in colourful costumes.
May 17 — Tam Kung brings happiness and security to fishermen.
His temple in Shau Kei Wan on Hong Kong Island was built in 1905.
This festival is celebrated in a similar manner to the Tin Hau Festival.
June 12 — The Tuen Ng Festival is held in honour of Qu Yuan. He drowned himself in the Mi Lo River some 2,000 years ago in protest against corrupt rulers. Chinese legend recounts that the town folk, intent on saving his body, beat drums to scare away fish. They also threw bamboo leaves stuffed with rice into the water to keep the fish from eating Qu's corpse.
Today, the festival revolves around the Dragon Boat Races. The boats are over 10 metres long and are specially decorated with dragon heads and tails. They're also quite narrow, affording just enough space for two paddlers to sit abreast. The craft are manned by a crew of between 20 to 22 oarsmen that paddle to the beat of a heavy drum played by a drummer at the bow, while a steersman guides from astern.
July 31 — The God of War.
Kwan Yu (關羽) was born in Shantung province in 161 A.D., and enlisted in the army as a young man in 184 A.D.. Rising through the ranks with great speed, he became a famous general renowned as a model of virtue and martial prowess.
Kwan Yu became divine in 1100 A.D. and was further elevated in 1594 to deity as Kwan Daaih (god-king). A Taoist symbol of integrity and loyalty, Kwan Yu is the patron saint of martial artists, tradesmen, the Hong Kong police and even triads. In turn, business people regard him as the deity of money-making and pray for blessings in this regard.
Statues of Kwan Yu depict him as a fierce man of stature in red robes (though often in green as it's said he liked wearing the colour) and holding a long sword. His red face signifies a ruddy and healthy complexion.
Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan is dedicated in part to this deity.
August 13 — Chinese legend states that a weaver maid with six elder sisters worked her loom all year long. But she was lonely. Her father, the Heavenly Emperor, took pity on her and consented for her to marry. After the wedding she neglected her weaving, and her father ordered her to resume her work. She was only allowed to visit her husband once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh moon.
Modern celebrations see young women make offerings of fruit, incense and joss sticks in open air at night as they gaze upon the two stars that symbolise the maid and her husband.
A favourite spot is at Lover's Rock on Bowen Road in Wan Chai.
August 21 — The Hungry Ghosts Festival. During the entire lunar month, the Chinese believe the gates of Hell are opened, freeing hungry ghosts that wander the earth in search of food.
Some also believe that ghosts will seek revenge on those who have wronged them in life.
In remembrance of the dead, families burn joss sticks and offer food to appease them, in order to prevent bad luck. Other tribute offerings are made in the form of burning colourful paper objects, such as houses, cars, television sets and even mobile phones, in the belief that these items will help the ghosts live comfortably in the afterworld. This includes the ever-popular Hell money — fake paper money that is burned so the ghosts will have more spending cash.
In some places, outdoor shows or concerts take place in neighbourhoods at night that the ghosts might be entertained. Superstitious people will not go swimming for fear that an evil ghost will drown them. Children are reminded to return home early, to avoid being out alone at night when the risk of becoming possessed increases.
15 days after the festival begins, it is believed the ghosts return to their points of origin, and the festival ends.
September 19 — Harvest Moon. Each year on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, the Chinese celebrate what is — outside Lunar New Year — the biggest event of the year.
It is a time of reunions, where families get together to feast, and also snack on mooncakes.
Mooncakes symbolise the full moon, and the most famous legend associated with it dates back to 1368AD. In the 14th century, China had been overrun by the Mongols. The Chinese used mooncakes to hide messages with plans for the rebellion. The Mongols, who did not eat mooncakes, were unaware of the subterfuge. Families were told to eat the cakes on the day of the festival, and it is then the revolt happened.
A traditional mooncake is filled with lotus seed paste with a salty egg yolk in the center, which represents the moon, but they are now made with many different fillings. They are very high in calories, and therefore are usually cut into quarters to be shared.
Another tradition in the eve of the festival has come to be known as the Lantern Festival. Children carry lanterns in all manner of shapes, from birds to animals and even dragons, in addition to the usual spherical designs.
One legend behind the Lantern Festival suggests that the Jade Emperor of Heaven was angry at a town that had killed his favourite goose. He was intent on destroying the town in a firestorm, but a kind fairy warned the town-folk to light lanterns on the day of retribution. When the Emperor looked down from Heaven, it appeared the town was already ablaze, and he then decided not to destroy it, as he was satisfied the goose had been avenged. Since that time, people celebrated their escape from vengeance by lighting lanterns on the anniversary of that day.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most colourful and fun events of the year.
September 20 — The Monkey God was an outcast from Taoist heaven. He redeemed himself and became immortal by escorting Tang Gan Zang on his pilgrimage to the West to obtain the teachings of Lord Buddha.
During the festival, held at his temple in Sau Mau Ping in Kowloon, a possessed medium runs barefoot over fiery charcoal and climbs a ladder made of knives to recreate the trials endured by the Monkey God as other gods attempted to execute him. The medium never gets hurt.
October 1 — K'ung Fu-tze was one of the most influential Chinese philosophers.
Known in the West by his Latin name, Confucius taught self-enlightenment through the Five Virtues:
October 13 — Chung Yeung, like Ching Ming, is a day to remember ancestors. Families attend to the graves of their ancestors and pay their respects.
They often eat cakes known as Ko, which sounds like the Chinese word for top. Therefore, eating the cakes will help one be promoted.
The Chung Yeung Festival also commemorates a legend from the Han Dynasty (BC 202-AD 220) legend. In it, a soothsayer advised Woon King that he should take his family to a high place for the entire ninth day of the ninth moon. When they returned they found every living thing in their village had been killed.
Families often go hiking along the many trails to be found in Hong Kong.
December 22 — Dung Ji is the shortest day of the year. Traditionally it is the time when fishermen and farmers collect food to prepare for winter.
As with Lunar New Year, it is an important time of family reunions. On this day, people will wear new clothes, visit family, and eat and drink in celebration of new optimism. From this point, the days grow longer again.
This festival is rooted in the Chinese philosophy of the Yin and Yang. On this day, Yin, representing cold and darkness, is at its zenith. However, this same night it will give way to Yang, which represents warmth and light.