Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節, jong chau jit in Cantonese or 中秋节, zhōngqiū jié in Mandarin) is when Chinese people appreciate the full moon when it’s at its biggest and brightest phase on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, which is 29 September 2023 this year.
Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Lantern or Moon Festival, takes place annually on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar. This year, that day falls on September 29. To celebrate this holiday, families and friends gather to revel in festivities like feasting on mooncakes, playing with lanterns and moon gazing. While we’re no strangers to this yearly affair, what is Mid-Autumn really about? How did it all begin? And why do we even celebrate it? To answer all your questions, we’re here to let you in on everything from the festival's time-honored traditions to its history and legend. Read up and get acquainted with the holiday.
Although the true origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival is not known for certain, historical records show that moon-worshipping practices began over 3,000 years ago in the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-1046 BC). However, the festival only became an official celebration in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) when ancient emperors of China would host a feast to make offerings to deities and the moon in celebration of the year’s harvest. After the Tang Dynasty, the Mid-Autumn Festival also became a time of the year for the emperor to reward his officials for their hard work and contributions. Over time, it evolved into a festival of many traditions: to give thanks to the moon, pray for better luck, fortune, and fertility, and reunite with the family to celebrate and admire the moon in its full glory.
Legend Of the Moon
There are many versions of the myth and story behind the Mid-Autumn Festival, but the most well-known revolves around an archer hero named Hou Yi and his wife Chang’e.
As the legend goes, Hou Yi was rewarded with an elixir of immortality after shooting down nine out of the ten suns that ravaged the land with drought and disaster. However, when Hou Yi’s apprentice, Feng Meng, attempted to steal the elixir, Chang’e stopped him by drinking the elixir herself. After doing so, she became immortal and floated to the moon, never to be seen by her beloved husband again. After learning what had happened to Chang’e, Hou Yi would prepare a feast on this day every year when the moon is believed to be at its fullest, in hopes of catching a glimpse of his wife’s shadow.
Each year, there are three important days to gaze at the moon among the Chinese community: on the eve of the Mid-Autumn Festival when we welcome the moon; on the day of the festival to admire the moon; and on the following day to send off the moon. This annual affair is a popular tradition that still remains in our modern city and every year, families, friends, and couples flock to the best spots in town to admire the beautiful moon.
Mooncakes are said to have originated from Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 AD) revolutionaries as a means to pass covert messages hidden in them. Nowadays, mooncakes symbolize togetherness and harmony, and every year we see shops and restaurants touting mooncakes of all kinds. In fact, there's an overwhelming variety of flavors to choose from these days. The most traditional ones, however, are made with a lotus seed paste with a salted egg yolk center. Mooncakes are usually eaten in small wedges with families or friends during the night of Mid-Autumn, often served with tea or wine.
During this time, you’ll no doubt notice the shops are full of brightly colored lanterns.
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