the Mid-Autumn Festival: under the full moon

Mid Autumn Festival mooncake

The Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節) is one of the most important Chinese holidays, that is celebrated in East and South-East Asia as well. It takes place on the 15th day of the eighth month of the traditional lunar calendar when the night is bright with a full moon. This year the holiday took place on September 21st. Let’s learn more about it!

Origins of the festival

The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, is associated with a myth about Hou Yi and Chang’E. Hou Yi was an excellent archer and when one year ten suns rose to the sky causing disasters and droughts, he saved the earth by shooting down nine of the suns so only one remained. For this brilliant feat he was awarded an immortality elixir. Hou Yi loved his beautiful wife too much to leave her behind and so they decided to keep the elixir and not use it. However, one of Hou Yi’s apprentices knew of the secret and decided to steal the elixir when Hou Yi went hunting. He came into the couple’s house and demanded it. Chang’E didn’t want to give away the precious drink and so she swallowed it instead and then flew to the moon. When her lover learned of what happened he was devastated. He started preparing offering of his wife’s favourite fruits and cakes as a sacrifice to her and so the tradition of the Mid-Autumn Festival began.

What to do?

It won’t be much of a surprise to hear that the moon is important part of the celebrations. It’s common to reunite with your loved ones and go out to look at the full moon (there is even a name for that in Japanese – お月見). Getting together with your family for a holiday dinner is a common activity. Aside from that, lanterns are a popular decoration – they line the streets, serve as toys for children and become a canvas for good wishes as well as riddles, known as lantern riddles. Since the goddess associated with this holiday is Chang’E, some people set up altars to receive the goddess’s blessing.

What to eat?

The most popular things to snack on are mooncakes (月餅), which are little edible works of art. They contain a variety of different fillings, most typical being red bean paste and lotus. Some are filled with a full salted duck egg yolk that symbolises the full moon of the Mid-Autumn Festival. On the top of each cake there is an imprint of fortunate Chinese characters, floral motifs or various traditional symbols (for example rabbit, an animal that in China is associated with the moon). These typical Chinese pastries are rich in calories so it’s advisable not to eat too many. Other typical foods include seasonal fruits that celebrate the harvest and the osmanthus wine.

The Mid-Autumn Festival around the world

Aside from the Chinese speaking countries, the festival is also celebrated in places with a big Chinese diaspora, like Malaysia, the United States or Canada. In Japan the time of the Mid-Autumn Festival is dedicated to the full moon. People gather to marvel at it together, eating dango that resemble the round moon. On the same date, Korean people celebrate Chuseok, a harvest holiday. They go back to their hometowns, visiting the graves and holding memorial services for their ancestors.

Learning more about different cultures obviously broadens your horizons and expands your knowledge about the world but you might also incorporate some of the celebrations into your own calendar. Why not organise a moon viewing picnic with your friends next year? Or try baking the moon cakes!




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