One season, four festivals, hundreds of performers, thousands of years of tradition, hundreds of thousands of incense sticks, a multitude of sweet buns and a city full of people paying tributes and enjoying it all. It's springtime in Hong Kong, a season to witness the ancient traditions that are celebrated here every year.
The first of these springtime events is the Birthday of Tin Hau, due to take place this year on 22 April. Tin Hau is the Goddess of the Sea and patron saint of fisherfolk. On her birthday those who make their living from the sea, along with those who enjoy the fruits of the oceans, flock to over 70 temples in the region dedicated to their goddess, where they pray for safety, fine weather and full nets in the year to come. As well as prayers, Tin Hau is acknowledged and celebrated with street parades, floral wreaths, lion dances and boat parades in several seaboard locations. They are colourful events that usually end with some delicious offerings from a nearby seafood restaurant.
Early every spring, the people of the island of Cheung Chau are very busy. They make papier-mâché effigies of deities, prepare costumes, steam buns and build a bamboo tower. It's almost time for the famous Cheung Chau Bun Festival, due to take place this year 3-7 May. It has, since ancient times, been renowned hereabouts, but now the word 'famous' is a just one, as the event has been declared by Time.com as one of the World's Top 10 Quirky Local Festivals. The event celebrates the end of a plague on the island and the driving away of evil spirits. The unique parade includes colourfully-dressed children who 'float' above the crowds on wires while below them adults carry the effigies and show off their own fabulous costumes. At the culmination of the parade, all pause in front of the Pak Tai Temple to witness the fine athletes who climb the bun towers to collect the locally-produced buns. He who gathers the most buns wins, of course.
This year the much-anticipated birthday of the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama), founder of Buddhism, falls on 6 May, a day when the faithful gather to pay him homage. This is one of the most spiritual festivals in Hong Kong. It is called the Buddha Bathing Festival because, according to legend, nine dragons sprayed the Buddha with water at his birth. To commemorate this event, devotees gather in Buddhist temples around the region, including the Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, home of the Big Buddha, to bathe the statue with bowls of water. In doing so, they not only revere the Buddha but it is believed that the act helps to purify the soul.
Also on 6 May, another legendary birthday will be celebrated. This is the birthday of Tam Kung who, like Tin Hau, is a favourite with seafarers and fisherfolk. This celebration is unique to Hong Kong and is marked with dragon and lion dances and a street parade, especially at his temple in Shau Kei Wan on Hong Kong Island. It is believed that Tam Kung achieved wisdom at a young age and that is why he learned the secret of youth ... it is said that when he was in his eighties he still had the face of a 12-year-old. But that is not really the reason he is revered by fisherfolk. Even as a child it is believed he could heal the sick and - most important for those whose livelihoods depend upon the sea - he could forecast the weather.
All these festivals are highly anticipated in Hong Kong. It's a wonderful time to visit and the festivals will provide many wonderful photographs and thrilling memories.