In 2018, the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节), or Chinese Moon Festival, falls on September 24. It is one of the three major annual occasions in China (the others are Chinese New Year and Dragon Boat Festival and it takes place on the 15th day of the 8th Chinese lunar month.
As a time for families to be together, Mid-Autumn Festival’s typical food is moon cake which is round and symbolizes reunion. Families and friends gather together to celebrate by eating moon cakes and appreciating the spectacular beauty of the fullest and brightest moon.
Three Legends About the Mid-Autumn Festival
Love Story of Lady Chang’ e and Hou Yi – Tragic but Romantic
PartⅠ Hou Yi Shoots 9 Suns
In the distant past, there used to be 10 suns in the sky. Hou Yi -- an archer and a member of the Imperial Guard -- saved the earth from scorching when he drew his supernatural bow and shot down 9 unnecessary suns from the peak of Mount Kunlun.
As a reward, the Queen of Heaven presented Hou Yi with the elixir of life. It was said that even half of the elixir could make a person live forever.
However, Hou Yi was unwilling to leave his wife, Chang’e, so he did not take the elixir. Instead, he gave it to Chang’e for safekeeping. Chang’e put the elixir of life into a case in her dressing table, but she was observed by one of Hou Yi’s disciples, Peng Meng, who was very treacherous.
PartⅡ The Lady Chang'e Flies to the Moon
One day when Hou Yi went out to hunt with his disciples, the disingenuous Peng Meng pretended to be ill, and didn’t go with them. Shortly after they left, Peng Meng broke into Hou Yi’s house and warned Chang’e that she had better hand over the elixir of life. Chang’e knew that she couldn’t manage to protect the elixir.
In the crisis, Chang’e fetched the elixir from the case and promptly swallowed it. Immediately she floated up into the sky. It was said that Chang’e became immortal and stayed on the moon nearest to the earth, as she was anxious about her husband Hou Yi.
At nightfall, Hou Yi went back home and was told by his maids what had happened during his absence. Hou Yi was furious and immediately went to kill Peng Meng. The heart-stricken Hou Yi shouted to the sky and surprisingly discovered the moon was extremely bright and clear that night. He caught sight of a swaying figure that was exactly like Chang’e.
Hou Yi hastily asked his maids to put an incense table in the back garden and to place fresh fruit and moon cakes – the favorite food of Chang’e – on the table, convening a memorable ceremony for Chang’e, who lived on the distant moon.
When local people heard the story of Chang’e, they arranged incense tables below the moon for worship of the goddess Chang’e, praying for happiness and safety. Worshipping and appreciating the moon during mid-autumn festival has been a popular activity ever since.
The Jade Hare Mashing Herbs on the Moon
It’s said there used to be three immortals disguised as three poor old men. These poor old men begged for food from a fox, a monkey and a hare. The fox and the monkey offered something to eat, but the hare had nothing to give them. Instead, the hare invited the old men to eat its meat, and promptly plunged into the raging fire.
The three immortals were deeply moved by the hare and decided to bring it to the palace of the moon. The hare living on the moon is commonly known as the Jade Hare. It is good company for Chang’e, and it mashes herbs and makes elixirs of life there, day after day.
An Immortality-Obsessed Man Cutting Down Trees on the Moon
When you look up at the bright moon, you can see a black shadow, which is just the legendary Wu Gang, trying to cut down a sweet osmanthus tree.
Wu Gang was an ordinary woodcutter who was obsessed with becoming immortal. He went to mountains and invited an immortal to be his teacher, seeking instructions from him.
Wu Gang, however, was careless and impatient and couldn’t concentrate. The immortal became furious and made Wu Gang stay on the moon, informing him he could become immortal once he had cut down the moon’s sweet osmanthus tree.
Wu Gang tried his best to fell the tree with his axe. The tree, however, would always re-grow naturally into its former state. Day by day, Wu Gang cuts down the sweet osmanthus tree, but he can’t manage to fell it permanently, for it keeps re-growing.
How to Enjoy the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival?
1. Appreciate the Bright Full Moon
A bright, full moon is the symbol of family reunion, reminding people of their home towns and loved ones. Gazing at the Moon is an ancient tradition dating back to the Zhou dynasty (around 500 BC), when people held ceremonies to welcome the full moon.
In the modern world, after a family reunion dinner, some people choose to go outdoors to appreciate the moon on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Good places for appreciating the moon are parks and squares.
2. Reunite with Your Family
Attending a grand family dinner is not a part of daily life for most Chinese. During the festival, family members, no matter how far from home, will try their best to go back home and get together with their parents and extended family.
This is much like Thanksgiving in the United States. And the traditional way to enjoy this time is by sharing a fantastic meal together.
Pumpkins, chestnuts, taro, persimmons, sweet potato, walnuts, and mushrooms usually feature in the festival feast, emphasizing the bounty of the fall harvest, along with traditional celebratory foods like crab, pork, and duck. Besides, round foods like moon cakes also feature in the festival dishes.
3. Eat Moon Cakes
Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as the Moon Cake Festival. The cakes, typically round, symbolizing the full moon, are presented as gifts to acquaintances and friends. The tradition of moon cakes can be traced back to the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279 BC), even though, at that time, the moon cakes were not round.
Chinese moon cakes are small baked cakes, made with a variety of fillings like salted duck eggs, bean paste, lotus seeds, fruit, and sometimes even meat. A cup of Chinese tea or osmanthus-flavored wine along with moon cakes is a match made in heaven.
As early as August, moon cakes, some of which are overpriced, start to appear on the shelves of local bakeries. Never mind, choose China Travel and free moon cakes will be awaiting you!
4. Light and Display Chinese Mid-Autumn Lanterns
One of the interesting Mid-Autumn Festival customs is hanging up lanterns, made from bamboo strips shaped like fruit and birds. Children are particularly fond of making their own traditional lanterns. When darkness falls, locals place candles inside the lanterns and hang them outside. It is said that the higher the lanterns are hung, the luckier the family will be.
Every year, lantern carnivals and exhibitions are held in parks and other public places, during which lanterns of various colors, patterns and styles are on display.
5. Enjoy Fiery Dragon Dances
Traditional lion dances and dragon dances are an important part of many Chinese cultural and religious celebrations.
A team of dancers carries a long dragon on poles. By moving the poles, the dancers can make the dragon sway and weave. When dragon dances are held on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, the dragon’s body is illuminated from within by lanterns or candles.
6. Watch the Tidal Bore
In Zhejiang Province in the east of China, watching the tidal bore ranks as a great event in celebration of the Moon Festival. The custom dates back to the Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), and the activity enjoyed great popularity during the Song dynasty (960–1279).
The great Qiantang Tide in Haining of Zhejiang, which is a spectacular natural wonder, boasts a tidal range of about 8.5 meters, from the 15th day to the 20th day of the 8th lunar month. Thus, the Mid-Autumn Festival period is a perfect time for watching the Qiantang Tide.
7. Various Traditions Across Different Parts of China
In Fujian Province
In Pu city of Fujian, women should cross the Nanpu Bridge to pray for long life. In Jianning, people light lanterns to pray to the moon for their babies. In Shanghang County, children have to get down on their knees when they worship the moon.
Parents in Long Yan, while eating a moon cake, will dig a small hole in the center of the cake, which means that some secrets should be kept from their children.
In Guangdong Province
In Chaoshan, women and children worship the moon. When night comes, they burn joss sticks before a table bearing fresh fruit as a sacrifice. That night they eat taros, for two reasons. One is that August is the best time to eat ripe taros, and the other comes from a story.
In 1279 the Mongols defeated the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279 AD) and established the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368 AD), ruling over the Han Chinese with some cruelty.
At that time, a well-known general called Ma Fa held out in Chaozhou to fight against the Mongols. When he failed, most citizens were killed. Because the Chinese word for taros and Mongols were similar, from then on people ate taros to prove that they would always remember the pain. Eating taros was symbolic of eating the heads of the Mongols.
In Sichuan Province
People prepare a lot of food like moon cakes, duck meat, glutinous rice cakes, and rice dumplings. In some places, people light orange lamps, or ask children to run through the streets carrying pomelos in their hands, decorated with burning incense.
In Jiading, people worship the god of the land and perform some local dramas to celebrate the festival.
In the North
On Mid-Autumn Day people of Qingyun County in Shandong Province worship the god of the land, as well as their ancestors. In Lu’an of Shanxi province, parents invite their sons-in-law to have dinner with them.
In Xixiang county of Shanxi Province, men usually go boating or climb mountains together, while women stay at home and prepare dinner. In Luochuan County, parents send gifts to their children's teachers to express gratitude.
Though different places have different customs to celebrate this special day, people share the common desire for reunion, happiness, safety, health and good harvest.
source from chinatravel