Chinese traditional moon cakes
Chinese traditional moon cakes

On the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, or the full moon between early September and early October, China and Vietnam celebrate the Mid-Autumn Day (sometimes called Moon Cake Festival). In Chinese, the festival is known as 中秋节 (Zhong Qiu Jie), which literally means middle autumn festival. The festival signifies the end of the autumn harvest and is a cultural, and in some places, religious holiday. It’s among the most recognized Chinese holidays, along withDragon Boat Festival, Chinese Valentine’s Day and the Chinese Spring Festival. In China, Mid-Autumn festival ranks behind only Chinese Spring Festival in significance.

History

In China, the moon has always been observed carefully, and most important decisions are somehow tied into the moon and its movements. All major holidays are planned according to the lunar calendar, and wedding dates are often chosen by the position and phase of the moon. The moon was thought to have close relationship with how the seasons change, and thereby also affect the agricultural production. So, to express their gratitude, the ancient Chinese would give thanks and celebrate the harvest with sacrifices to the moon on the autumn days. This tradition is said to be as old as the Zhou Dynasty between 1046 and 256 BC.

In recent years, a more romantic story has gained traction. A long time ago, ten suns had risen in the heavens and it was causing hardships for the people. An archer, known only as Yi, shot down nine of the suns, and as a reward he was given an elixir of immortality. However, Yi didn’t consume the elixir because he didn’t want to become immortal without his wife Chang E. One day, when Yi was hunting, Fengmeng broke into his house, and forced Chang E to give up the elixir. When she refused Fengmeng threatened her, so to keep the elixir safe she drank it herself and flew towards the heavens, choosing the moon as her new residence. When Yi came home and heard of what happened, he was inconsolable –  he found the fruits and cakes that his wife loved and put them forward to her. It’s possible this story is actually the origin of the sacrifices to the moon.

Customs

One of the most popular customs around the Mid-Autumn festival is eating moon cakes. Moon cakes come in many shapes and sizes, and with a variety of fillings. Everything from fruits, nuts, bean paste, coffee, chocolate and flowers. The cakes are round, symbolizing the reunion of a family. Eating a round moon cake under a round moon makes the Chinese long for their friends and family. Today, presenting moon cakes to friends and family is a way to wish them a long and happy life.

On this day, Chinese families gather to gaze at the moon, which is rounder than at any other time of the year. They get together and express their yearnings towards the friends and family who live far away.

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By: Mikkel Larsen

Mikkel Larson

Mikkel is a Chongqing based teacher, blogger, and photographer. He has lived in China since 2010, and can be found blogging here, here, and here

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