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Bun snatching and floating kids: Cheng Chau Bun Festival 2019

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The Cheung Chau Bun Festival falls on May 12 this year. Here are 10 things you need to know about it.

1 The Cheung Chau Bun Festival draws tens of thousands of local and overseas tourists every year. It is held on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month, coinciding with the Buddha’s Birthday.

2 The festival originated in the 18th century when Cheung Chau was devastated by plague and infiltrated by pirates. Local fishermen paraded an image of Pak Tai, the God of Water, through the village to drive away evil spirits.

3 It is customary for the villagers to go vegetarian for three days during the seven-day celebration. Even the local McDonald’s takes meat off its menu.

4 In addition to traditional lion and dragon dances, children dressed as legendary and modern heroes are suspended above the crowd in the Floating Procession. They are secured within steel frames, though they appear to glide through the air.

5 The Floating Procession is led by a huge image of Pak Tai. Local musicians beat gongs and drums to scare away evil spirits. The bun-snatching happens at midnight in front of Pak Tai Temple.

6 Historically, young men of the village would race up three, 18-metre bamboo towers to get hold of the buns. The higher the bun, the more good fortune they could expect.

7 The bun-snatching ritual was banned by the government in 1978 after one of the bun towers collapsed, injuring more than 100 people. It was reinstated, due to popular demand, in 2005.

8 Since then, only 12 trained athletes, selected from preliminary competitions, have been allowed to enter the bun-snatching race. There is now only one bun tower, and it has a steel (not bamboo) framework.

9 A lot of credit for the festival’s revival is given to Hong Kong-made animated feature, My Life as McDull, which was released in December 2001. During the movie, McDull decides to train to be an Olympic athlete but the sport he learns is bun-snatching – not an Olympic sport!

10 At a quarter to midnight, villagers burn a paper effigy of the King of the Ghosts, light enormous incense sticks and share out the buns. Everyone parties late into the night.

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