Global Cultures

Inside the lantern

Global Cultures - May 2015

Brightly coloured lantern displays, mooncakes and dragon dances in the streets. For centuries, the Mid-Autumn Festival has been a time when families come together under the silverlight of a full moon. And, as the night darkens, families are reminded of the tradition behind the celebration.

The Mid-Autumn Festival celebrates the harvest, held around the time of the autumn equinox and organised to coincide with the full moon. Traditionally, the ancient Chinese observed that the moon’s movements had a direct relationship with the changes of seasons and crop production. The festival gained popularity in the early Tang dynasty (618 to 907), when farmers made celebratory offerings to the full moon, in thanks for a bountiful harvest.

Every year, Hong Kong pays homage to the age-old tradition with a combination of lanterns, light shows and fire dragon dances. This year, a giant floating lantern made of 7,000 recycled plastic bottles and LED lights, titled ‘Rising Moon’, shone at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park.

Sadly not everyone in Hong Kong is able to share in the hustle and bustle of festivities with their loved ones, or play amongst the streets ablaze with colour. For those who are disadvantaged, the celebrations can be a time of isolation.

With that in mind, ANZ’s Corporate Responsibility Committee made sure the spirit of the Festival reached as many people as possible this year, from the youngest to the oldest, through the work of its volunteers.

Before the Festival, 30 ANZ volunteers packed gift bags to deliver to the elderly in the Kowloon district, a built-up commercial area as well as a highly populated residential zone. They were among more than 300 volunteers that knocked on the doors of 4,000 homes that day, meeting people who were mostly from low-income backgrounds with little or no family support.

“It was a great feeling to be part of such a large movement of volunteers. To think that together we visited thousands of homes, is proof of how much impact volunteering can have,” says Jonathan Yeung, Head of Business Banking, Commercial Banking Hong Kong.

Gift bags were packed to the brim with traditional festival food like mooncakes, local biscuits and noodles. Mooncakes area delicious Mid-Autumn delicacy in Asia, shared with family and friends as part of the unique gift-giving culture of the Festival. This traditional pastry is filled with salted duck egg yolk and lotus seed paste; the egg yolk to symbolise the full moon.

“The treats are our way of showing our care in the local community and is an extension of ANZ’s corporate values and commitment” explains Clara Chor, ANZ volunteer. “The reception we received was heartwarming and everyone seemed to enjoy the simple pleasure of having a chat and sharing a cup of tea.”

Soon after, a different group of ANZ volunteers spent half a day with 15 orphaned children, coordinated by the bank’s community partner, Po Leung Kuk – a charity which provides a range of social services to those in need.

The children couldn’t wait to get started when they found out what was in store – a day of Mid-Autumn themed activities, including lantern making and cupcake decorating.

“It was a Saturday morning filled with an atmosphere of energy and humour that only children can create,” says Simon Wong, team manager from ANZ IT Operations. “The room was a colourful mess of paper, glitter and cupcake icing; as well as a choir of singing children and volunteers.

Kara Chun, a volunteer who works in ANZ Operational Assurance, was reminded of the pure joy and excitement that you experience as a child during this holiday. Children in Hong Kong are allowed to stay up past midnight for the Festival, playing with lanterns of different shapes and colours in the streets.

At the end of the day, the volunteers were touched to hear the children recount the activities with their teachers and friends and shared their cupcakes with the whole group. “The children gave us a handmade “Thank You” card with a note saying they would miss their ANZ big brothers and sisters. It made me smile,” says volunteer Liza Chu, manager from ANZ Client Engagement.

From exchanging stories with the elderly, to crafts and fun with children in need, this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival was truly the celebration of an age-old tradition shared by all.

Image credit: Pelle Sten on Flickr