Thousands of festival goers packed a historic neighbourhood of Hong Kong Wednesday night to watch a “fire dragon” lit with incense sticks carried through the streets, recreating a century-old ritual.

The neighbourhood of Tai Hang was once a coastal village — now, after decades of land reclamation, it lies inland from Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour and is home to upmarket cafes and restaurants.

But a flavour of the old village still remains.

The annual “fire dragon dance” sees tourists and locals cram into Tai Hang’s network of narrow streets, eager to celebrate a tradition which has become a highlight of Hong Kong’s mid-autumn festival.

The 67-metre (220-foot) long dragon is made of straw and metal and stuck with thousands of incense sticks which are then lit.

Performers carry the dragon through Tai Hang for three consecutive evenings as it billows smoke, shaking and dipping its head and tail so it appears to be dancing to the beat of the accompanying drums.

The tradition is said to have started a century ago, after Tai Hang was hit by a typhoon followed by a plague.

Desperate to change its fortunes, villagers created a “fire dragon” and paraded it for three days and three nights, chasing away the plague, according to local lore.

The mid-autumn festival, timed to coincide with a full moon, is celebrated in Taiwan as well, where locals gorge on pomelo fruit and mooncakes — dense pastries usually filled with lotus paste.

As in Hong Kong, the festival is a time for family celebrations and evening barbecues, with grills set up on pavements and along the river as people tuck into meals and gaze at the moon.

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