The Mid-Autumn Festival is also called the Moon Festival or the Mooncake Festival. It traditionally falls on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese lunar calendar, which is in September or early October in the Gregorian calendar. This is the night when the moon is at its fullest and brightest.
In 2020, the Mid-Autumn Festival or Mooncake Festival falls on 1st October 2020.
History of the Mid-Autumn Festival
“May we live long and share the beauty of the moon together, even if we are hundreds of miles apart.”
This line from a famous Song dynasty poem written by Su Shi, better known as Su Dongpo, perhaps best captures the spirit of Mid-Autumn Festival, an age-old event with roots in Chinese culture.
The festival probably originated as the worship of the moon among ancient peoples. As the nation grew in size and sophistication, the various traditions of lunar veneration amalgamated into a celebration of the full moon in autumn.
Before the Qin dynasty (221-206BC), it was already a significant date for the Chinese, who “welcomed the cold season on the night of the Mid-Autumn” and presented the king with fine fur garments. In the six centuries of the Han and Jin periods (206BC-AD420), there were sporadic records of mid-autumn celebrations but the festival wasn’t very popular, especially in northern China.
It was during the Tang dynasty (AD618-907) that Mid-Autumn Festival became a nationwide holiday. Folk tales associated with the festival and the moon – such as Chang’e’s lunar flight, Wu Gang’s Sisyphean task of felling the osmanthus tree, and the Jade Rabbit pounding medicinal herbs to make the elixir of life – were popularised, and parties under the full moon became fashionable in the capital Changan (present-day Xian). Scores of poems were written eulogising the moon at mid-autumn.
During the Northern Song dynasty (AD960-1127), the annual festival was officially set on the 15th day of the eighth month on the Chinese calendar, a date that is still observed. According to a detailed description of daily life in the capital Kaifeng, “On Mid-Autumn’s night, noble families decorated their pavilions and commoners vied with one another to occupy the drinking houses to enjoy the moon.” They “nibbled on small pastries that resembled the moon”, with fillings that were savoury and sweet. The festivities would go on until dawn.
Mooncake Today Symbolizes Family Reunion
In Chinese culture, roundness symbolizes completeness and togetherness. A full moon symbolizes prosperity and reunion for the whole family. Children can be seen carrying colorful lanterns and walking around the neighborhoods.
It brings back memories of my cousins and I hanging lanterns in the garden.
Eventually, we got bored of lanterns and played with candles. We’ll create dominoes, lines, and patterns of candles. It felt like lighting a birthday cake but without the cake.
The best was the bonfire. We’ll create our mini campfire and watch the candles burn. No stories, just silence around the burning candles.
Round mooncakes complement the harvest moon in the night sky at the Mid-Autumn Festival. The mooncake is not just a food.
The Mooncake Festival has become very commercialized. Shops tout mooncakes of every conceivable flavor, type, and packaging.
In addition to the traditional mooncakes, there are snow-skin mooncakes, jelly mooncakes, and ice cream mooncakes.
- “What is Mid-Autumn Festival all about? Chinese legends, lanterns, and mooncake mountains in Hong Kong explained” @ South China Morning Post
- “Why the Chinese celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival – a brief history of the occasion” @ South China Morning Post
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