HONG KONG (AP) — Straw "fire dragons" smoldering with tens of thousands of incense sticks have been visiting Hong Kong neighborhoods to bestow blessings on residents. The tradition began in the 19th century when, as legend has it, villagers stopped a plague with a fire dragon dance. Now, it's one of many traditions that residents of Hong Kong enjoy as the city celebrates the mid-autumn festival, one of the biggest holidays in the ethnic Chinese world.

The autumn harvest festival — a cross between Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day — is celebrated on the 15th day of the eight month of the Chinese lunar calendar, when the moon is at its roundest and brightest. The festival dates back hundreds if not thousands of years. This year it fell on Sept. 19.

Other customs and traditions accumulated over the centuries. The holiday is also known as the Mooncake Festival because one of the most popular rituals is exchanging mooncakes, round pastries traditionally filled with lotus seed or red bean paste and salted duck egg yolk. The roundness symbolizes a family reunion while the yolk represents the moon. Chang'e, the moon goddess of immortality, is a common figure on mooncake boxes.

Lighting lanterns is also a popular tradition, and the lanterns themselves can come in the shape of animals or other objects from nature. The festival's romantic aspect comes with being associated with a god linked to a matchmaking practice. Above all the festival is a time for families to gather and pray for another year of good fortune.

Here is a gallery of images from this year's mid-autumn festival in Hong Kong by Vincent Yu and Kin Cheung:

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