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Museum of History holds Chinese Traditional Festivals exhibition

     Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city that is strongly influenced by Western culture but also retains a deeply rooted Chinese character. Traditional festivals such as Lunar New Year, the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival are a few of the examples through which we can learn more about local culture.

     Starting from tomorrow (July 1) to September 28, the Hong Kong Museum of History will hold an exhibition on "Traditional Festivals in Hong Kong". Through display boards, the exhibition will explore how Hong Kong conserves traditional festivals, such as Lunar New Year, Ta Chiu, the Tin Hau Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival and Cantonese opera, as part of its intangible cultural heritage.

     The exhibition is presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and co-organised by the Hong Kong Museum of History and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

     The cycle of festivities regulates the routines of people's lives. Traditional agricultural activities follow the annual cycle. In Hong Kong, traditional festivals are usually public holidays celebrated by the family. The Lunar New Year is a time both for rest and for holding festivities to herald the coming of a new season and a new beginning. People clean up their homes on New Year's Eve, enjoy the family reunion dinner and go for a stroll around the New Year fairs. On New Year's Day, the entire family gathers around the table to share the first meal of the year, and family members pay courtesy calls on their relatives and friends after the meal.

     On the 15th of the first lunar month, many lineages of local villages hold lantern-lighting ceremonies in their ancestral halls, where lanterns symbolising the baby boys born to the lineage are lit, and the names of the new-born are added to the lineage's genealogy records. Lineage members enjoy a communal meal, with the food prepared in big pots for all diners to share to generate an atmosphere of geniality. At the lantern-lighting ceremony and the communal feast, the male offspring's lineage membership is formally recognised, and the rights and obligations of lineage members are imparted to them.

    Ta Chiu is one of the major festivals in Hong Kong. Among the many Ta Chiu festivals, the annual Bun Festival on Cheung Chau is unique. Residents on the island erect a sacrificial altar to the wandering ghosts in the form of three 13-metre-high wood and bamboo towers decorated with steamed buns. Believing that after the ceremony the buns will be infused with sacred powers, the locals make a mad dash for them. The frenzied scenes at the Ta Chiu Festival on Cheung Chau earn it the name "Cheung Chau Bun Festival".

     Hong Kong has many temples that are dedicated to different deities, such as Tin Hau, Kwan Tai, Hung Shing, Pak Tai, Kwun Yum, and Wong Tai Sin. Residents regularly go to these temples to worship, pray and make offerings to the deities. On the deities' birthdays, the locals organise a variety of celebratory activities, bringing ceremonial offerings to the temples to repay the deities for the patronage and protection provided over the year. The Tin Hau Festival on the 23rd day of the third lunar month is the biggest of the annual celebrations dedicated to folk deities.

     The Dragon Boat Festival commemorates the politically minded poet Qu Yuan, who committed suicide for his beliefs by throwing himself into the Luo River. Legend has it that the villagers nearby raced out on their dragon boats, banging gongs and drums to scare away fish and other underwater creatures to stop them from eating Qu Yuan's body. Tai O, a fishing village at Hong Kong's western end, has hosted the annual dragon boat festival with a distinctive local flavour for more than a century. On the fourth day of the fifth lunar month, a dragon boat with a small sampan in tow paddles up to each of the four temples in the community to call on the temples' deities. The following day, images of the deities are put on the small sampan towed behind the dragon boat and are paraded along the water channels to pacify the water ghosts.

     Major Chinese traditions provide a general framework for local folk festivals. During the Mid-Autumn Festival, for example, people in different parts of China gather under the full moon to enjoy moon cakes and reminisce on the fairytale of Chang Er, the moon goddess. Each year, large Mid-Autumn Festival lantern shows are staged in Hong Kong at which different styles of lanterns using traditional handicrafts are displayed.

     Many distinctive festivities have evolved in Hong Kong over time, and Cantonese opera has  been a key element of the various traditional folk celebrations. Cantonese opera, also called "Kwangtung grand theatre play", is performed in period costume to the accompaniment of a Cantonese music troupe. A Cantonese opera repertoire typically includes historic epic tales and love stories, with each play lasting from three to four hours. The plays performed during folk festivities were originally staged for the benefit of the deities, and they have therefore come to be known as "plays for the gods". Since these "plays for the gods" may be presented over a period of three to five days, a makeshift stage is set up as the performance venue. Apart from serving as a place where the art of Cantonese opera can be appreciated, the large community theatre also provides a good opportunity for the locals to socialise. The "plays for the gods" provide an important training ground for new generations of Cantonese opera artists.

     The Museum of History is located at 100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It opens from 10am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday and from 10am to 7pm on Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays). Admission for "Traditional Festivals in Hong Kong" is free.

     For details of the exhibition, please visit the Museum of History's websites at or, or call 2724 9042.

Ends/Tuesday, June 30, 2009


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