Customs and Traditions

Fire Dragon Dance in Pokfulam Village

Pokfulam Village near Chi Fu Fa Yuen hosts a fire dragon dance every year to celebrate the mid-autumn festival.

According to residents, this colourful dance first appeared a few decades ago as a well wishing ritual for peace, safety and good fortune. Today, with more and more villagers leaving the old homestead for modern urban homes, the fire dragon dance is an event to maintain kinship and enhance unity.

On the eve of the mid-autumn festival, villagers make dragon bodies and heads with metal wire and straw imported from China. Several large balls or pomeloes pierced with wooden sticks are used for dragonballs. At about 7 o'clock in the evening, long joss sticks on the pomeloes, dragon bodies and dragon heads are lit up. At 7:30pm, the fire dragon dance begins. Hoisted up by a hundred strong men and youngsters, two fiery dragons roll and dance after the joss stick balls held by two villagers. After whirling and twirling for a few rounds, the fire dragon procession enters the village, passing through streets and alleys and bowing at the Earth God altar. As a finale, the fire dragons proceed to the seaside of Waterfall Bay where it is submerged in water. This ritual symbolises the dragons returning to sea. In the past two years, villagers had not been able to take the dragons to sea at Waterfall Bay because they did not obtain the government permit in time. Instead, water from Waterfall Bay was sprinkled across the dragons as a gesture. The fire dragon dance is a bustling and animated event. It is a great gathering for villagers where old and young work hand in hand for the cause. Non-residents are welcome too. Visitors can help put the joss sticks on the dragons. It is an important folk custom that promotes fraternity and social harmony.

Yu Lan Ghost Fair

Formerly called Yu Lan Feast for the Departed, Yu Lan Ghost Fair falls on the 14th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar. This day is commonly known as Yu Lan Festival or Ghost Festival. The Chinese people believe that the Gate of Hell is open during the 7th lunar month every year. During this month ghosts can return to the mortal world for food and clothing. To give material assistance to their ancestors and to comfort hungry stray souls, sacrificial ceremonies are held. These rituals aim to show filial piety and release distressed souls from purgatory, so that peace and harmony will fall upon the community and everyone can live happily. During the year, suicides, traffic accidents and other tragic accidents may have occurred. The colourful fair of Yu Lan Festival brings spiritual comfort to individual neighbourhoods and believers during this 7th month of the lunar calendar.

In Hong Kong, this established folk custom is followed both at the community and individual levels. In the community, families prepare paper ingots, joss money, fruit, cooked rice and food, and put them on the street as offerings to departed souls. Joss sticks are lit and paper ingots are burned. The rice and dishes are dumped out and shredded paper is scattered on flames. This ritual, known as "street offering", is meant to provide for hungry souls. The colourful folded paper offerings are symbols of fabrics. It is believed that the ghosts can use them to make clothes.

At the community front, many neighbourhood groups in Hong Kong organise Yu Lan Ghost Fairs in the 7th lunar month when special ceremonial sheds are erected. Events include chanting by Taoist and Buddhist monks, ceremony of transcending sufferings and live performances by Chinese opera companies to entertain the living and departed alike. Such liberation rituals are bred from a wish to eliminate all evil and unrest, so the community can prosper in peace in the coming year. Yu Lan Ghost Fair is staged in many places in the Southern District, such as Tin Wan, Shek Pai Wan, Wong Chuk Hang, Ap Lei Chau and Stanley. In Stanley, the festival is marked by a float parade and soul comforting ceremony. The statue of Tin Hau is paraded in a sedan chair under the escort of Taoist monks and children with painted faces playing "ghosts". The procession starts from Tin Hau Temple and parades along the seafront, Stanley Market to end at Pak Kan Uk, where a bird and paper boat releasing ceremony is held. On this day, everyone in Stanley, young and old, local and visiting, enjoys a bustling fun day.
Dragon Boat Races

Dragon boat races in Aberdeen and Stanley are popular traditional activities. The races in Aberdeen are believed to the earliest of their kind in Hong Kong.

The Dragon Boat Festival falls on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. Also known as Duanyang Festival and Poet's Festival, it commemorates the death of patriotic poet Quyuan more than 2000 years ago. This is an important festival for the fishing community. Before the launch, dragon boats have to be blessed and enlightened. After the races there is a traditional "put-away" ceremony.

On the 1st day of the 5th lunar month, the dragon head and tail are fitted onto each dragon boat. A thanksgiving ceremony is then held. Offerings of paper money, joss sticks, roast pig and wine are made to pray for good weather and calm waters. At the end of the ritual all the dragon boats are launched in water and sail to a nearby temple to pay homage to the gods. Led by the drummer, the dragon boat is steered to face the temple and goes forward and backward three times to wish for good fortune. After the races, the heads, tails and drums are removed and stored under the Ap Lei Chau Bridge. The festival is rounded up by a thanksgiving ceremony.

The Stanley dragon boat races are quite different from others. Expat teams have been taking part here for many years. For more than a century, Stanley has been a cosmopolitan neighbourhood. The local dragon boat races first attracted the attention of expatriates in the 1960's. They made up teams in the early 1970's to join the fun. In particular, the British forces pursued this sport with great enthusiasm.