August 26, 2019
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Floating children parade Hong Kong island for "bun-snatching" festival

Hong Kong May 12 (efe-epa).- Papier mache costumes of Chinese deities, a bun-snatching competition and a parade of "floating" children are just some of the colorful and curious traditions revelers enjoy at an annual Bun Festival on the Cheung Chau island of Hong Kong.

What began as a ritual the local fishing community would take part in to ward off pirates has quickly become a tourist magnate that sees tens of thousands of people flock to the island to enjoy the Taoist ceremony.

The tradition dates back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) when the island was severely affected by a devastating plague.

Legend has it that, in a bid to chase away the evil spirits, villagers prayed to the gods and paraded through the narrow alleys of the island carrying statues of their deities shortly after which the plague miraculously ended.

Since then, the residents of this former pirate refuge have met year after year, from the first to the ninth day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar to celebrate this carnival.

No Chinese festival would be complete without food, and buns take pride of place at this one.

During the festive week all residents of the island practice three days of vegetarianism, with most of the seafood-loving island and its restaurants taking part.

During the festivities, they make and distribute sweet white buns that are considered to bring luck.

The delicacies are made of flour, water and sugar, and come in three different flavors: lotus seeds, red beans and sesame seeds.

The highlight of the show is the colorful parade of "floating" children and the bun-snatching contest, which takes place around midnight.

For the parade - which is a thanksgiving exercise to the deities for their protection, and an opportunity to wish for more peace and luck for the rest of the year - young children disguised as legendary deities or modern celebrities float over the crowds.

The children, all 5 years of age or under, are placed on a small seat attached to rods of steel or are perched on top of a pole where they parade to the rhythm of drums and gongs.

For the bun-snatching competition, a spectacular 14 meter-high bamboo tower is installed in front of the Pak Tai temple wrapped with nine thousand buns.

Competitors climb the bamboo scaffolding and store the buns in a wallet.

The higher the "stolen" buns are located, the higher the score achieved by the contestant, who has three minutes to take as many sweets as she can.

In the past, each family would send a representative to the competition to bring their homes health and good fortune.

To avoid food going to waste plastic bread buns are used instead of real ones.

In a tragic turn of events, one of the towers collapsed in 1978 leaving more than 100 injured, which led to the contest being banned until 2005 when it was re-established as a controlled competition where only a handful of people could participate.

While many were happy to see the return of traditional ritual, there are critics who argue that turning the "theft" of buns into a sports and tourism event has erased its original meaning which was to bring peace and health to the villagers. EFE-EPA

msc/ch

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