Hong Kong celebrates four spring and early summer cultural festivals in May and June. Here is information on where to find the festivals and special events.
Birthday of Tin Hau Festival
The Queen of Heaven and Goddess of the Sea, Tin Hau, was born, according to legend, in 906 AD in Fujian Province. Because she could predict the weather and save sailors from shipwrecks, she became the patron of fishermen and seafarers. On her birthday, each year, people pray for safety, security, calm weather and plentiful catches.
Special festival events include dragon, unicorn and lion dances, marching bands with drums and gongs, and fancy fa pau (paper floral shrines), which fishermen believe bring good luck and protection.
There are more than 70 Tin Hau temples in Hong Kong, some located in urban areas, others in more remote fishing villages. The oldest Tin Hau temple, dating from 1266, is at Joss House Bay, in the eastern New Territories on Sai Kung Peninsula.
Because it's also the largest Tin Hau temple, it's called the "Big Temple." It shelters Qing Dynasty treasures, including an iron incense burner, a ceremonial pot and bell and two dragon boats.
Some of the biggest Tin Hau celebrations take place here, including a parade of sailing boats decorated with colourful flags.
You'll find other processions, dances and music at other Tin Hau Temples. Dragon boat and sampan races, dancing and Chinese operas take place at Yung Shue Wan on Lamma Island.
Cheung Chau Bun Festival
Special Cheung Chau Bun Festival events take place on Cheung Chau Island, a one-hour ferry ride from the city centre.
There are two origins to the Cheung Chau Bun Festival. The island was once a pirates' lair. Islanders celebrate to placate the ghosts of pirates' victims and/or to commemorate salvation from a plague, 200 years ago.
Spectacular processions end each of the six days of the Cheung Chau Bun Festival. Taoist priests lead processions of shrines, acrobats, music, lion dancers and children, dressed as mythological figures and Chinese heroes. An intricate system of rods and hidden wires lift the children over the heads of the crowds.
Three large bun towers are built in front of the 100-year-old Pak Tai Temple to appease hungry ghosts. The parade ends with an event, revived only in 2005.
When given a signal, athletes climb up one of the towers to collect lucky buns. The person who collects the most lucky buns within the specified time is the winner.
Birthday of Lord Buddha
The eighth day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar is the birthday of Lord Buddha. Buddha's birthday celebrations cover eight days.
Po Lin Monastery, on Hong Kong's largest outlying island of Lantau is the location for Lord Buddha's birthday ceremonies. Here, the Giant Buddha, the world's tallest outdoor seated bronze statue, towers above the island on a mountain plateau.
On Lord Buddha's birthday, visitors and local people ritually bathe the statue of Buddha. Acrobatics, Chinese music and Kung Fu performances by young Shaolin monks entertain the crowds.
Po Lin Monastery is near Tai O. The fishing village is famous for its traditional stilt houses, inhabited mostly by Tanka people, descendants of Hong Kong's first settlers.
Where to eat on Lantau Island? Go to Cheung Sha where you'll find several places to eat outdoors, overlooking one of Hong Kong's nicest beaches.
Tam Kung Festival
The location of the main Tam Kung birthday celebration is Shau Kei Wan, a former fishing village at the eastern end of Hong Kong Island. Tam Kung is another patron of fishermen and boat people.
The Tam Kung Temple was reconstructed in 2002, preserving the design of the original temple, which was built in 1905. Local fishermen, who worship Tam Kung, placed a small wooden junk and dragon in the temple. The Tam Kung birthday celebration is a procession with lion and dragon dances, children on floats and cultural performances.
The Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defense is a 10-minute walk from this Tam Kung Temple. Located inside a converted 19th-century fort, it shows how Hong Kong defended itself over the years.
In a Tin Hau temple, near the Tam Kung Temple on Shau Kei Wan Main Street East, are 100-year-old murals, woodcarvings, wall paintings and Shek Wan pottery. Two beautiful figurines, in front of the Tin Hau image, according to legend, have supernatural eyesight and hearing.
Dragon Boat Festival
The Dragon Boat Festival celebrates the brave actions of poet and philosopher Qu Yuan. He protested against the corrupt regime by jumping into the Mei Lo River, when China was under political and military strife.
Local fishermen, according to legend, raced out with their boats to save their beloved poet. To their dismay, they arrived too late. To prevent fish from eating his body, they beat the waters furiously with their paddles and threw silk-wrapped rice dumplings into the river to distract the fish.
Dragon Boat races still celebrate this act of courage, thousands of years later. With their ornately carved dragon heads and tails, dragon boats speed through the water, paddled by athletic teams to beating drums.
Hong Kong visitors can participate in these festivals on exclusive Hong Kong Tourism Board tours. These tours may include transportation, exclusive vantage point admission, interesting side trips, cruises and party participation, depending on the festival.