Today is Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节 in Chinese, also known as the Mooncake Festival or Moon Festival), which is one of China’s biggest holidays. It is celebrated by Asian communities worldwide, and is a time of joyous celebration. The festival is very lively, filled with family reunions, mooncakes, parades, and lanterns.
The date for Mid-Autumn Festival, along with most Asian holidays, are based on the moon and Chinese calendar. It is held on the 15th of the 8th lunar month in the Chinese calendar, falling within half a lunar month of the autumn equinox (from about Sep. 6 to Oct. 6).
It’s a bit confusing to explain the Chinese calendar, but if this makes any sense, the 8th month is the middle month of autumn and the 15th is its middle day. The four seasons each have three lunar months, day 15 of month 8 is “the middle of autumn,” hence the name of the festival.
In China, people will reunite with their families and friends, lanterns are lit, mooncakes are bought and exchanged, and many visit temples. Here in Canada, we celebrate by doing similar activities, however, we don’t light lanterns. Instead, if we have a chance to visit the temple, we write messages on lanterns and pay our respects to loved ones who have passed. Mooncakes are definitely bought and enjoyed; I prefer the lotus seed ones without any egg yolk, but the traditional type does have egg yolk inside.
The legend of Mid-Autumn festival is told through stories, with the most popular one being the legend of the Chinese Moon Goddess, Chang E.
According to legend, Chang E is a pretty woman with a kind heart, who is married to Hou Yi, the archer. They live in the times when there were 10 suns in the sky. Due to the extreme heat from the 10 suns, the village they lived in suffered from drought and they lost all their crops, leading to villagers dying. To protect the earth, Hou Yi used his bow and arrows to shoot down 9 suns, leaving only one in the sky. As a reward, the Queen of Heaven gave Hou Yi an elixir of life for his great contribution, making him immortal if we were to drink it.
However, Hou Yi didn’t want to leave his wife, so gave the elixir to her for safekeeping. One day, when Hou Yik went shooting with his disciples, one of them (Peng Meng) pretended to be ill. Shortly after they left, he broke into Hou Yi’s house and forced his wife to hand over the elixir of life. Chang E knew she couldn’t manage to protect it herself, so she swallowed it immediately.
When Hou Yi returned, he was heartbroken. He shouted to the sky and surprisingly discovered the full moon was very bright that night. He caught sight of a figure that looked just like his wife.
Immediately, Hou Yi made moon cakes, which were Chang E’s favourite food, placed them on a table under the moon to honour his wife. When the locals heard about what happened to Chang E, they too offered moon cakes to the moon as a way to worship the Moon Goddess Chang E.
Since then, worshipping the moon and eating moon cakes became a tradition of the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Do you like moon cakes? Will you be celebrating with your family this Mid-Autumn Festival?