I have a new appreciation for holidays after more than two years in Asia (I cannot believe it has been more than two years in Asia, but that of course is another post altogether…) and especially after nearly two years of working without the luxury of the academic calendar to which I have had a lifelong affiliation and adoration.

I have long been a fan of holidays where you get stuff… you know Christmas (though Hanukkah seems way better with eight days of presents – alas I am not Jewish, is that a huge detail?) Easter (save for the bad dresses); my birthday (WHAT?! Not a recognized holiday? NO!) Even Halloween… But I am starting to feel a bit differently about the whole situation. Not that I am no longer appreciative of getting stuff, fire away with the gifts… but now I seem to be much more drawn into the spectacle, and more often than not, the superstition. And if you want either of those in loads, come to Hong Kong.

Here are some of the holidays we recognize over in the S.A.R. (of course we get the Western ones too… it’s a good deal!) with the three F’s – Fireworks, Flowers, Food:

  • Lunar New Year… The Chinese calendar puts us in the Golden Fire Pig year of 4644 0r 4704 depending if you start counting at the beginning or end of  Huang Di’s reign. This marks the start of everything (including the fiscal year) in any areas governed by Chinese Culture. Everyone seals deals, contracts, pays debts and gets all sorted before hand… or else! No sweeping on or around this day either as it may sweep out your good luck. For the fastidious in the crowd, that would be February 6-10 of this coming year. The fireworks and parades rival any I have ever seen, the flowers? Oh my the flowers… and then there is lai see (lucky money) distributed generally to kids, but aso to unmarrieds, though I was told by a student that the fact that I am receiving lai see at 37 is a suggestive insult meaning, “What’s your deal? Get married already!”

  • Ching Ming Festival… Meaning Clear and Bright Festival this one takes place on the 104th day after Winter Solstice, or 15 days before spring equinox and it is a festival for honoring the ancestors, sweeping and tending the graves. Offerings are left and we have a very high risk of hill fires from these offerings as many Chinese grave sites are on hillsides because the view is important for feng shui and general benevolence from the decesased. But the joss sticks smell great and most graves have brooms with which to extinguish runaway sparks.

  • Buddha’s Birthday… Now it seems to me that Buddha has an amazing number of birthdays, depending if you are in Thailand, Lao, Burma, China, Indonesia, or Korea… But in Hong Kong we observe it in May and it is called Fat Dan, falling on the eighth day of the fourth month of the lunar year. Of note, NO other individuals have birthdays recognized as public holidays. Buddha rocks, clearly.
  • Cheung Chau Da Jiu (Bun Festival)… Coinciding with Buddha’s Big Day is the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, which is kind of like the closest thing to Thanksgiving in Chinese tradition (however, as almost all Chinese festivals are centered around giving thanks, I guess it has more to do with a food focus…) traditionally it was a celebration to pray to sea gods like Pak Tai and Tin Hau for protection from pirates. The buns are a symbol of good fortune and a tower of buns was erected and those who reached the buns closest to the top had the most good fortune. Until a tower fell down and now the bun climb is more for show.
  • Tuen Ng Festival… Easier to remember as the Dragon Boat Festival it happens on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar… and it is a mad party. Everywhere boats, people, races, and drumming… Oh! The drumming!
  • Mid-Autumn Festival… Another biggie, this is also known as the Lantern Festival or Moon Festival (or less fortunately, the Mooncake Festival.) It falls on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar and is a celebration of togetherness and abundance (hard to go wrong there!) that coincides with the fullest and brightest moon phase near the fall equinox. There are lanterns everywhere and they are beautiful…

  • Chung Yeung Festival… The Double Ninth Festival falls on the ninth day of the ninth month, a day with too much yang (that would be the male energy), a potentially dangerous date. What better way to avoid danger than to celebrate it, eh? To protect oneself you are advised to climb a high mountain, drink chrysanthemum wine, and wear dogwood flowers. Sounds like a decent enough way to ward off evil spirits… Go climb a hill!

So, while I still adore presents and get a giggle out of Halloween I have really been taken in by the symmetry and the spiritual logic of the Chinese calendar and all of it’s ‘red’ days. I like the idea of being in tune with the moon and the planet and history. I like the idea of fresh starts and new beginnings in a more seriously recognized manner than a new year’s resolution to head to the gym… no one in Hong Kong would even think of leaving something unfinished or unfulfilled into the new year and that suits my OCD tendencies just fine. I like the idea of fireworks flowers and food. I like the colors and the brazen celebrations. I like that everything absolutely shuts down to celebrate even in such a driven culture and economy. I like it all.

Amanda, now 37, still in Hong Kong, and waiting for the next red letter day