Every year, an array of buns, papier-mâché effigies of deities, pipers, drummers and lion dancers all converge on the small island of Cheung Chau on the fifth to the ninth days of the fourth lunar month (between April and May), forming one of the world’s quirkiest local festivals.
This year, the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, a traditional Taoist ritual, returns to mesmerise participants and onlookers from May 19 to May 23, 2018. The week-long festival in Cheung Chau island consists of three main parts. First, a parade of deities, called piu sik (floating colors); secondly the honoring of the dead; lastly and also the most well-known, is the bun scrambling competition.
The idea of the Piu Sik, also known as the floating colors parade, is to parade deities around the island to scare off evil spirits. As a modern-day version of villagers disguising themselves as gods to scare off spirits, these days it is a colourful sight for tourists, as children dress up as legendary deities or modern celebrities, and are held up high on stands to give the impression of ‘floating’ above the crowd. At the end of the parade, excited participants dash to the Pak Tai Temple, hoping to become the first to greet and honor the parade deities.
Following piu sik parade, the ceremony to honor the dead takes place at night. At the end of the ritual, villagers burn a large paper effigy of the King of the Ghosts, and then buns are distributed among everyone to share the good fortune. Also known as “Lucky Bun”, many people hope for peace, safety and good health by eating the buns from Cheung Chau.
Made of rice flour with fillings such as lotus seed, red bean and sesame, the “Lucky Bub” buns are embossed with the Chinese characters – “peace” and “safe”, which symbolise health and prosperity. This year, Kwok Kam Kee, the classic “Lucky Bun” bakery in Cheung Chau that produce the buns will be collaborating with Sanrio’s cartoon family to launch three new flavours of “Lucky Bun”, including Matcha, Ube and Lotus seed paste. Starting from May 2018, a “Lucky Bun Gift Set” has been launched, where buns are being made in shapes of Hello Kitty, Gudetama and PomPomPurin with three new tastes accompanied by original taste.
During the midnight on the last day of the celebrations, the trademark of the festival, the “Bun Scrambling Competition” will be held where a 60-foot (14-metre) tower covered in imitation buns is set up near the Pak Tai Temple. Participants will climb hurriedly to collect as many buns as they can.
The higher the bun, the greater the luck – which is why most race to the top to grab the luckiest buns for good fortune. The festival’s origin stem from a plague that devastated Cheung Chau in the late Qing dynasty (1644– 1911). The islanders built an altar in front of the Pak Tai Temple and petitioned the god Pak Tai to drive off the evil spirits surrounding the island, while parading statues of deities through the narrow lanes of their village. The plague ended after the performance of these Taoist rituals. 100 years later, the rites are still performed in a festival that has become an integral part of Hong Kong’s cultural heritage.
In addition to the lively event of Cheung Chau Bun Festival, Hong Kong will soon be celebrating other traditional festivals such as:
22 May – Birthday of Buddha
Organised by Buddha’s Light International Association of Hong Kong, the Celebration Carnival for Buddha’s Birthday attracts over 100,000 participants every year. Buddha Bathing Festival, is one of the most spiritual and unique festivals celebrated in Hong Kong. There will be a vegetarian food fair, carnival games, a flower show, arts and crafts, as well as the ‘Kid’s Paradise’. Visitors can take part in rituals such as bathing the Buddha, wish-making, meditating, and sutras calligraphy, which serve to purify one’s mind. One of the grandest ceremonies is will be held at the Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, home of the Big Buddha.
22 May – Birthday of Tam Kung
Revered among coastal communities, Tam Kung was said to be capable of forecasting the weather and healing the sick, and learned the secret of remaining forever young when he was just 12. So, his statues usually depict an 80-year-old man with the face of a child. Together with the Tin Hau Festival, Buddha’s Birthday, and the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, the Birthday of Tam Kung is a great chance to experience the rich culture and traditions of this modern enclave.
Be a part of the celebrations to witness the rich cultural heritage of Hong Kong. Please visit Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) website for more information.