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The Mid-Autumn Festival is a festival celebrated by East and Southeast Asian people marking the end of the autumn harvest. The festival, which falls on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Lunar Calendar, is also commonly known as the Moon Festival or the Mooncake Festival. It is an important holiday for the Chinese where families get together, worship the moon, and celebrate the harvest.
The names of the festival and the customs in each country and region differ from each other. The festival is called Zhōngqiū Jié in Mandarin in China and is referred to by many other names in different countries. However, the main essence of the festival remains the same, focusing on family, prayers, and thanksgiving.
In Japan, where the festival is called Tsukimi or moon viewing, celebrations have been held since the Heian period (794-1185AD). It is said that the Chinese introduced the Japanese to this festival, and while the moon may not always be full on this day, it is supposed to be at its brightest.
The Japanese eat rice dumplings called Tsukimi dango to honour the beauty of the moon. Other moon festival foods include edamame, chestnuts, and taro. Sweet potatoes and sake are also offered, and decorations made of Japanese pampas grass or susuki are displayed. Sometimes, autumn flowers are placed in a vase in people’s homes or near the location from where they will be viewing the moon. Families gather and recite poetry under the full moon and pray for an abundant harvest.
Until the Meiji period (1868 AD), the festival was celebrated by hosting long parties, though now the Japanese celebrate it in a quiet manner.
In South Korea, Chuseok or the Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated over a period of three days. It is held around the autumn equinox and is also known as Hangawi. Families gather and give thanks for the plentiful harvest. They also conduct an ancestral memorial ceremony called Charye and lay out select food items on what is known as the Charye Table. They even visit their ancestors’ graves as a part of the tradition.
A significant food item during this occasion is a rice cake called Songpyeon. It is a half-moon-shaped rice cake and contains sweet or semi-sweet fillings. It is offered to their ancestors or even shared with family members and neighbours as it is representative of the moon and prosperity. Some other foods include traditional liquor and jeon (Korean pancakes).
During Chuseok, the Koreans also travel to their hometowns to meet up with their family members.
In Vietnam, the Mid-Autumn Festival or Têt Trung Thu is mainly celebrated by children. The children long for the Têt Trung Thu, where they are given lanterns, lots of snacks, and fun masks.
During the festival, the Vietnamese worship the God of the Earth. Fruits, mooncakes, and snacks are laid out in their gardens, where they sit together, catch up, and appreciate the moon. The children also play with various types of lanterns during the night of the festival. The most prevalent lantern is a star made with red cellophane.
Tết Trung Thu marks the end of the harvest and a time when families are done with their work and can spend time with each other, making the event even more meaningful.
Lion dancing or múa lân is another essential element of the Mid-Autumn festivities here. A mythical lion, performed by acrobatic dancers, dances through the streets under the moonlight. The dances are sometimes executed by the children themselves. The lion dances are symbolic of good luck and the removal of unlucky forces. Besides this, the youth come together and sing joyful songs. All this results in a beautiful sight of dozens of lions accompanied by drums beating throughout the town.
The Vietnamese, too, offer food to their ancestors and enjoy mooncakes during this festival.
The Festival in Thailand has its own tale. Legend has it that on the Mid-Autumn Festival Day, Eight Immortals visit the Palace of the Moon to wish the Goddess of Mercy. They offer peaches to her to bring prosperity and luck to the people on Earth.
Similarly, families worship the moon and gift each other peach-shaped cakes. The streets are filled with lights and people buying fruits and mooncakes for the occasion. The durian flavoured mooncake is the most famous during the festivities. The Pomelo, which is symbolic of reunions and large gatherings, is also eaten during this time. People sometimes attend full moon parties or go on a cruise. There is a plethora of cultural shows, food stalls, and even beauty pageants, all held as a part of the celebration.
Many people in Singapore are Chinese, and hence the festival is an important time for them. To show their gratitude, they send mooncakes to family members, friends, or even business associates. Many people bake the dessert themselves as well. Their other activities, too, are similar to those in China.
The children hang lanterns around the house, and one will see many such lanterns all over the town during the weeks leading up to the main day. One of the most well-known shows is the Lantern Fair held by the Singapore River.
The themes followed are all based on Mid-Autumn traditions and stories of Chang’e and Wu Gang. Another loved Mid-Autumn Festival snack is Durian Cake.
They even have a carnival, and at night, the streets look spectacular with stalls selling all kinds of food items, ornaments, plants, clothes, and so much more!
Post dinner, families walk through the streets to look at the lanterns or participate in the famous Mass Lantern Walk. One can enjoy dragon dances and other live performances on the streets as well.
Over the years, the festival has had new additions like lantern competitions, lantern riddle-solving, and seashore parties.
With a high Chinese population, the Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated with great splendor in Malaysia. From Lantern parades to opera performances to dragon and lion dances, one can witness it all, especially in Kuala Lumpur.
The shops sell both traditional and modern mooncakes, which eventually make their way into everyone’s houses, especially during this time of the year. Restaurants also prepare huge mooncakes for people to try.
Like other countries, the people in Malaysia, too, gather with their families to admire the moon. A family dinner while eating mooncakes is a must.
The shops and streets are decorated with lanterns, and many organize lantern painting competitions. Dragon and Lion dances are a famous sight on the streets during this time. Many people even visit the Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur, which looks spectacular with the lanterns lit around each of its six tiers. Penang Hill is another prominent location where a Night Lantern walk takes place.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is a major holiday for the Chinese living in the Philippines. Apartments and buildings are covered in lanterns, and Chinatown in Manila is the best place to be. Bridges and shops are adorned with streamers.
Parades are a major part of the festival, ranging from an ethnic clothing parade to a lantern parade to even a float parade. Over the years, people have become more creative and now make their lanterns using electronic devices. Many restaurants and hotels come up with special menus serving the festival’s favourites, especially mooncakes. Ducks, hairy crabs, and pomelo are other food items that make it to the dining table.
The people get together to play a dice game called Pua Tiong Chiu or Poa̍h-tiong-chhiu, and the winner generally gets mooncakes as their prize.
Like other places, families reunite to admire the moon and the beautiful lanterns and enjoy a large feast.
Differences In The Festivals:
Amongst the similarities, the festival is also known for its unique differences. Below are some ways it varies from country to country.