Tin Hau Festival
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Celebrating the Birthday of Tin Hau

In 1834, the Rev. Charles Gutzlaff recorded his impressions of his first visit to the Tin Hau temple at Mei Chow, Fujian. Appreciative of the clean and orderly temple and of the beauty of its location, he remarked, “Pilgrimages are made from every part of the province of Fujian to conciliate her favor. No junk of any importance passes without stopping a while that the captain and mate may render homage to their protectress for her aid in the hour of danger.”

The story of the goddess Tin Hau is one told and retold among her devotees in South China. The basic legend surrounding the goddess tells of her being a native of Mei-chou, born in the Lin family, skilled in fortune-telling and worshipped after she died. Successive generations of believers have elaborated this basic structure with miraculous stories of her divine intervention to help those in need. While popularly associated with fishermen and other seafarers, who she saves from storms and waves, Tin Hau is also greatly revered among those on land, as a defender of lineage villages, a giver of children and as a protector who gives aid in times of misfortune.

In Hong Kong, Tin Hau is worshipped in a style befitting devotees’ conception of her as a "big god". Temples at Yau Ma Tei, So Kwu Wan, and Joss House Bay are devoted specifically to her worship, and separate altars dedicated to her are the features of many other local temples. The devotion of worshippers can be seen in the annual celebrations of her birthday in which thousands of devotees offer their prayers, their offerings, and their gratitude for favors granted, and seek her blessings for another year. For her perceived efficacy in providing solace to all who seek her protection from danger or her assistance for personal concerns, Tin Hau is considered a major deity, whose worship is of great importance in Hong Kong and the communities of south China.

Flower Cannon Association

Significant participants in the annual birthday celebrations for Tin Hau are the Flower Cannon Associations, many of which are established by fishermen or by those associated with fishing or the sea. These associations take their names from the Flower Cannons, or Fa Pau, which the associations have crafted in her honor each year. On the day of her birthday, these Flower Cannon Associations participate in day-long celebrations to honor her in the community and at the temple.

Date of Tin Hau Celebrations

Tin Hau’s official birthday celebration is held on day twenty-three of the third moon, or in late March of the solar calendar. In Hong Kong, however, public celebrations typically extend over a longer period and may be held in late April or early May. Paper masters explain these varying dates by citing Hong Kong’s crowed geography, and the inconvenience of having only one date for so many worshippers. Others explain the multiplicity of dates as a reflection of the difference between land and sea dwelling worshippers. Whatever the reason, different locations hold celebrations on different dates.