Festivals bring families together, traditions forward and people closer. Each country had different customs, traditions and beliefs; all of these makeup to a mind-blowing celebration over the holidays. One such festival is the Moon Festival, also called the Mid Autumn festival celebrated by the people of China and many Southeastern and West Asian countries.
What Is The Mooncake Festival or Moon Festival?
The moon festival or the Mooncake festival has been in existence for more than 3000 years, dating back to the emperors of China who worshipped the full moon, thanking it for prolific harvests. Having different names in different countries, this festival is celebrated by the majority of Southeast and East Asian people. It is the 2nd most important festival coming right after the Chinese New Year.
Moon Festival Dates
The Legend Of The Autumn Full Moon Festival
The legend of the Moon festival revolves around Chang’e (嫦娥) and Hou Yi (后羿). There are many versions of this tale but out of that only 4 mention, Chang’e and Hou Yi at it are best.
The Lady Chang’e Flying To The Moon
Chang’e and Hou Yi were husband and wife. Hou Yi was an excellent archer and was asked to go on a mission. A mission to take down 10 suns that were withering the earth. Using just bow and arrow he killed 9 of them and as a reward, he was offered the elixir by the Queen mother of the west. The elixir could provide him immortality but given his love for his wife, he wasn’t willing to ingest the elixir alone. He did accept the elixir but gave it to his wife to hold onto under her protection.
Greed took over him when one of Hou Yi’s students, Pang Meng heard about the elixir and tried to seize the opportunity to steal it when Hou Yi went out hunting. Just as he was progressing with the theft, realizing that she couldn’t defeat the man, Chang’e drank the elixir before he could put his hand on it. As a result of the effect of immortality and not wanting to abstain from her husband, she fled to the moon. Upon hearing of his wife’s trials, Hou Yi grew sad and in hope of bringing his wife back arranged a table of fruits and food. There’s another version of this story too where Chang’e turns into a toad on her way to the moon. Although her beauty was now gone, the toad was considered a symbol of fertility in the matriarchal society and flying to the moon was considered a ritual of chasing the moon where the ancestors wanted to be close to the God, they now worship.
Hou Yi Making Cakes
After the departure of his wife, Hou Yi and Chang’e were missing each other. Coming across their misery, an immortal informed Hou Yi of a way through which he can reunite with his wife again. All Hou Yi had to do was make round shaped cakes made of flour and place them in the Northwest direction of his home along with shouting out the name of the person he misses the most, his wife. By doing all this he was promised that he would reunite with his wife in the Mid- Autumn festival.
Jade Rabbit Mashing Herbs
It is said that three sages transformed themselves into three sorry old men to test living beings. On their quest, they ran across money, a fox and a rabbit. They pleaded for food, the fox and the monkey shared their food but the rabbit had nothing to give so he jumped into the fire and offered himself as food to the old men. Surprised and moved by his gesture they blessed the rabbit and sent him off to live in the Moon Palace.
In the Moon Palace, he was entitled as the Jade Rabbit. Chang’e was alone in the Moon Palace, the arrival of the Jade rabbit was pleasant for her for now she had someone to keep her company. Chang’e grew fond of him and their friendship and told the rabbit about how much she missed Hou Yi, upon hearing this the rabbit wanted to help her go back to Earth. He decided to brew a cherubic medicine, unfortunately, he appears to be unsuccessful in doing so. Many say that to this day the rabbit can be seen making the medicine during the Mid Autumn festival.
Wu Gang Cleaving Sweet Osmanthus Tree
A woodcutter named Wu Gang who originally lived on the Earth was sent to the Moon Palace after he had upset the Almighty. Wu Gang was driven by greed and was sent there as punishment. Once in the Palace, he was told that if he was successful in cutting down the sweet-smelling Osmanthus tree he would attain magical powers.
He stroked his axe multiple times on the bark of the tree for days extending to month and so on. But the tree had healing powers, so, each scar it got, disappeared in an instant. The tree grew stronger and bigger, sheltering the palace.
Why The Moon Festival Is Celebrated.
The 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese Lunisolar calendar is celebrated as an appreciation for the ample harvest. It is called Chuseok in Korea, Tsukimi in Japan, Tết Trung Thu in Vietnam along many other names changing with each country. This day coincides with that of the harvest time during mid-autumn. It is a joyous occasion when families gather and admire the moon and are thankful for the harvest. A huge variety of lanterns are displayed but not just for their beautiful appearance but as a symbol of hope and a path directing everyone towards good fortune and opulence. Along with this moon-shaped round cakes filled with lotus seed paste or sweet bean paste is enjoyed by all families.
When Did The Moon Festival Become A Festival?
The moncake festival has a collective history of 3000 years. It initially began during the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC) when the moon was worshipped. People have faith in eating together around a round table during the brightest full moon will bring them luck and fortune. This first became a festival during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127).
As for the Baiyue people they believe the harvest time commences when the dragon brings along with it rain to help them harvest the crops. They only started to celebrate it as a festival during the Tang Dynasty (619-907 CE).
Facts About the Moon Festival
The date of the mid-autumn festival changes every year. Although the date of the festival changes annually in the Gregorian calendar, it usually appears in September and October.
The festivities are very grand and hence the popular tourist destinations are filled with people wanting to enjoy the scenic environment and the festival. Although only one of the three days is declared a public holiday so if it were to occur on a weekday people do not get to enjoy themselves to the fullest but if it were to occur on the weekend then people get to enjoy all the festivities. If you are planning to visit during the festival then pre-bookings need to be done since everything gets booked many days before the festival.
Mid-Autumn festival the second most important festival in China. People from remote places move to the big cities to work, the only time for them to reunite with their family is through these national holidays. They come back and gather with their families to celebrate in the first half of the year to celebrate the Chinese New Year and for the Mid-Autumn festival in the second half of the year.
Mid-Autumn time is the time when people take out time from their busy schedules and come back home for a reunion. With the fast lives and full schedules, no one has time to sit and talk about each other’s well-being. Festivals are now everyone’s only chance to meet, greet and enjoy each other’s company over the holidays.
The whole festival revolves around the brightest and fullest moon. All the festivities include praying, worshipping and valuing the moon for everything that it’s provided us with.
The appearance of the full moon is not uniform. It doesn’t always appear on the 15th day; it can appear on the 16th or 17th or even the 14th day according to the solar movement and the moon phases.
Mooncakes must be prepared for the festival. They’re gifted and received by friends, family, relatives, colleagues etc. along with worshipping and appreciating the moon.
The festival has a rich history of over 3000 years.
The legend of the Moon Festival is where it all started. A tale where an ordinary husband and wife go on to face one of the most tragic events of their life. To save the elixir of immortality from going into the wrong hands she had to drink the elixir herself which made her immortal and also the Goddess of the moon.
The colourful lanterns are enjoyed by all the children across the country. The making of lanterns is a huge thing in Southern China where the lanterns are made from pumpkins, papers, tiles etc.
Besides China, many Asian countries celebrate this festival. People offer different things to the moon in different countries. The way they celebrate is surely different but they all have one thing in common, everyone worships the moon for a bountiful harvest and good fortune.
How To Celebrate Moon Festival
People look forward to their traditions during the celebration. Each tradition is as important as the other, each holding meaning to the people. As ordinary, as they might sound, they hold a special place in everyone’s heart. These traditions include having dinner with your family, eating moon-shaped cakes, worshipping and appreciating the moon, making colourful lanterns to set off in the sky and enjoying their time together. People give and receive gifts from their loved ones along with celebratory messages. With the new generation, the youth like to travel to some shortly distant places to explore. Now in this time, watching movies and shopping have also become a part of the celebration of the festival.
Symbols And Customs
There are the five most important symbols of the festival. The whole festival is a representation of gratitude towards the moon and the moon goddess. The five symbols include everything related to them.
Since the moon is the brightest on a particular night people consider it as a symbol of contentment, gratification and prosperity.
The mooncake’s shape is the symbol of family value completeness and reunion.
The lanterns that set in the sky by children are a symbol of their delight, bright future and attainment.
As eye-catching the lion dances are, the lions hold meaning, they symbolize luck welfare and auspice in life.
Finally, but importantly, the moon goddess symbolizes luck, peace and completeness in life.
How The Chinese Celebrate The Mid autumn Festival
To celebrate the festival with their loved ones, there are holidays all across the country. Government offices, banks and schools are closed for extra days too to celebrate the festivities that take place all across. The festival is celebrated by performing many traditions one of which is burning incense sticks to respect and honour divinities including the moon goddess. Dragon and ion dances are performed all over the country but mostly in the southern part of the country.
Most might think that lanterns are a part of mere decoration that makes the festival bright and colourful but its importance goes way back into history. Lanterns symbolized fertility and were made in the persona of local culture, myths and natural elements. They were lit and sent over rivers to guide the spirits of those who had drowned. People also believed that lighting lanterns in the dark during the festival would be a wish for the sun to return after the winter frost.
According to a Chinese tale, a Turpan businessman offered the king of the Tang Dynasty cakes on the 15th day of the eighth lunisolar month. The king pointed towards the moon taking the cake in his hands with a smile and invited the moon to share the cake with him. The word of these actions of the king spread and everyone started doing the same. It is a tradition that the eldest member of the family cuts the mooncakes in pieces and offers each member of the family to represent unity among the members.
Another tradition is to pile 13 mooncakes, one on top of the other in the form of a pagoda. 13 mooncakes are used in the making of this since there are 13 months in the Chinese lunisolar calendar.
As a part of the celebration, girls pray to the moon goddess to fulfil their romantic wishes as the festival timing is considered to be a good occasion to celebrate marriages. In some parts of the country, dances are held for this affair. Ladies throw their handkerchief in the crowd and the gentleman who catches it gets a chance at a romantic relationship with the lady.
In the early 1900s, an ethnographer Chao Wei-Pang researched games for men that involved spirit possession, fortune-telling and flights of the soul. Various activities were hosted for men, women and children. The women took part in ‘Ascent to Heaven’, an activity where they’d be covered in smoke from incense sticks with their eyes closed and foretell the amazing sights and sounds, she encounters. The woman to perform this activity was chosen from a circle of women.
Another activity was held but with slightly younger females. This activity called ‘Descent into the Gardens’, according to this, the girls represented a tree, of which the colour and number of the flower indicated the number of sex and children she would have in her lifetime.
For men the games were different, they played ‘Descent of Eight Immortals’, in this game one of the players would get possessed by and he then would decide the roles of scholars and warriors. All these games for men and women but none for children would not be fair, so there’s a game for children too. Children would gather around in circles and one of them would be chosen to be the toad king, the others would chant a song that would transform the chosen one into a toad. The toad king was meant to jump around like toads unless someone sprinkles water over its head because the water will make him stop. This game was called ‘Encircling the Toad’.
Top 5 Cities In China For Mid autumn Festival
There are different ways in which people celebrate this festival in different parts of the country. People have different preferences in places they’d like to visit during the holiday. The top 5 cities to visit for the festivities are Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Hangzhou, and Guangzhou.
Beijing has many beautiful sights to offer during the Mid Autum festival. One of the most visited places is the Marco Polo Bridge Temple Fair where people visit to see the traditional Chinese folklore. After a long day exploring, hunger can only be fulfilled by a delicious and happy meal and there’s no place better than the CCTV Tower. It is as high as 725 feet up in the sky which serves different cuisines buffet along with different barbeques for people to enjoy during the festival.
Other than these places Beihai Park, Shichahai, Yangtaishan and many more places have a lot to offer to tourist and locals to see and enjoy their time.
Shanghai is one of the most famous cities in China in the world. The Disneyland resort in Shanghai is one of the most popular tourist attractions, enjoying time with your family and friends alongside all the Disney characters. Another location is the Bund. It is famous for the restaurants and their tea. On the night of the festival people also take a cruise along the Huangpu River to see the gorgeous display of lights. Other places like the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Jin Mao Tower among others are the best places to visit in Shanghai.
Hong Kong is a place full of life and love among everyone. The magnificent display of the Causeway Bay Fire Dragon Dance in Tai Hang is very popular. Almost 300 people volunteer in this dance for it has been in existence since 1880. The dragon extends up to 70 meters and has 32 sections. In addition, there are food festivals, lanterns displays and much more for everyone to enjoy and cherish.
Hangzhou is most visited for watching the moon reflection in the three pools. The locals call it three pools mirroring the moon and due to its popularity, it gets very crowded. Hangzhou is famous for its west lakes and the reflection of the moon in the water bodies is magnificent. Yeuyan (moonstone) on the Fenghuang mountain is said to be the perfect place for moon watching. The moonlight goes through the hole in Yeuyan and two moons appear before our eyes, in the sky and on the ground. It was called haunted for years but became a place for admiration 800 years ago.
Guangzhou has always celebrated the Mid Autumn festival by eating river snails, hanging lanterns and bathing under the moonlight. People make lanterns using bamboo and light them from the inside with candles, these are then hung outside their homes in hopes that it will bring them luck. River snails are cooked using medicinal herbs and consuming them helps improve their eyesight.
In old times, women believed that the moon was a matchmaker; people who couldn’t reproduce took a chance and the women took a bath in the river under the moonlight during the festival in hopes to have children.
All these places among others have great stories behind their customs and traditions. Dating back many years when everything started, the stories are mesmerising and have a moral behind each one.
What The People In China Eat For The Mid autumn Festival
Many delicacies are prepared for the family to share during the festival. Mooncakes are the most important food prepared in memory of the Moon Goddess Chang’e. they are made using different fillings with a thick pastry as the outer covering. Moon cakes are available only this time of the year so grab them while you can. Hairy crabs are also enjoyed at this time. It’s a specialty in Shanghai, it is said that during this time of the year crabs are getting ready to lay their eggs which makes them all the more delicious. They taste the best along with ginger and vinegar.
Chinese people believe that some foods bring them luck, one such food is taro. Taro, according to them stands for ‘luck is inside’, so, eating taro will eliminate their bad luck and bring them only good luck. They’re eaten as a main course. River snails are consumed to improve one’s eyesight. They’re cooked using medicinal herbs to eliminate their smell. Other things including pumpkin, watermelon, lotus root, pears and duck are also eaten for their nutritional value and significance.
Mid autumn Holiday Getaway With Highlights
Beihai Park in Beijing is a pleasing sight for the eyes, this is the place where all the high class and emperors came to appreciate the beauty of the moon. People take a cruise in the lake along with their families for the beauty of the moon’s reflection in the water is exquisite.
The Echoing Sand mountain in Dunhuang is one of the most popular tourist spots because of the crescent lake named after its shape. Along with enjoying the amazing scenery in the desert, there are many desert activities arranged for travelers to take part in.
The beautiful Suzhou city has the smallest yet the most beautiful garden, Master of the Nets Garden that showcases an evening performance for the visitors. Artists dress up in ancient costumes and put on shows including songs and opera in the Suzhou dialect. There are various rooms where a different show is arranged in each room.
The Oriental Pearl TV Tower in Shanghai is one of the highest building with a height of 1521 feet from the ground. With a rotating restaurant, visitors can enjoy their meals with the amazing view outside changing.
There is a place in Guilin where the shape of the cave resembles that of an elephant. It is called the Elephant’s trunk hill or the Water-Moon cave where 3 moons can be witnessed, one in the sky and 2 reflections.
Victoria Park in Hong Kong has a majestic celebration for the festival. Folk music, traditional shows, quizzes and dragon dances all take place in Victoria Park.
How Mid-autumn Festival Is Celebrated In Asian Countries.
The Mid-Autumn festival is celebrated in many Asian countries and the celebrations are very similar in some of them. In Korea, it is celebrated as thanksgiving where people visit the graves of their ancestors and pay them tribute. They make rice cakes and liquor made from freshly harvested rice. All families gather and play traditional games and admire the moon at night.
Malaysia and Singapore have similar traditions of gathering under the moon, admire, worship and thank it for the generous harvest. Children gather at night with their lanterns of various shapes, sizes and colours and roam around showing them off. While China has been celebrating the festival for 3000 years, Japan has been celebrating it for over a thousand years. As in every country they pray to the moon for the harvest ad also a nexus between aesthetic and spiritual. Decorations are seen to be made from Japanese grass named pampas and rice dumpling are made to go with the celebration.
Thailand has a different tradition that everyone follows during this time of the year. They too celebrate this occasion on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar but they bring at the altar the statues of eight immortals along with the statue of the Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin. People believe that when they offer peach-shaped cakes to the immortals, they will send them to the moon for their Goddess to celebrate her birthday. In return for their offerings, they seek the blessings of the immortals and the Goddess.
Netflix Movie Based On The Legend Of The Moon Festival.
‘Over the Moon’ is an animated movie released in 2020 available on Netflix whose plot is based entirely on the Legend of the Moon festival. The story is of China where a young girl is told about the Moon Goddess Chang’e during the festival. Unfortunately, her mother falls ill and dies but her father later finds love in another woman. The young girl believes in the story and conspires a plan to go and meet Chang’e on the moon but the series of events takes a turn when her father’s lover’s kid joins her on the journey. Now Chang’e and the young girl both have to find a way to get past the troubles.
This movie is truly a must-watch for those who believe in the legend. It was directed by Glen Keane and written by Audrey Wells. You can check our full list of movies to watch during moon festival in another article.
What Are The Alternate Names For The Mid-autumn Festival?
In Japan, the festival is called Tsukimi, and in Korea, Chuseok. Tết Trung Thu is the name for the festival in Vietnam, เทศกาลไหว้พระจันทร์ (Mid-Autumn Festival) in Thailand, Perayaan Pertengahan Musim Luruh (Mid-Autumn celebration) in Indonesia, Perayaan Kuih Bulan (Mooncake festival) in Malaysia and 中秋節 / 中秋节 in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Taiwan. Despite the language barriers the festival is known as the Mid-Autumn festival all over the world.
How To Pronounce 中秋节
The Mid-Autumn Festival or the Moon festival is written in Chinese as 中秋节 and pronounced as zhōngqiūjié.
This festival has huge importance in the lives of the people who worship the moon. It is celebrated every year with great enthusiasm, love and respect; having to be a part of this celebration is truly a delight.