Mid-Autumn Festival – Second the biggest festival in countries with Chinese culture This year celebration falls on 8th September.
Mid-Autumn Festival known as Zhōngqiū Jié, or alternatively, mainly in the countries of Western culture Moon Festival, is a celebration with agricultural origin, held on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. This year celebration falls on 8th September. People in mainland China enjoy one day off during the festival which is usually connected with the weekend. Usually it’s also coincide with the celebration of the National Day, which causes elongation of the holiday. That encourages to mass internal migration in order to meet with the family from distant parts of the country. In addition to the Chinese New Year, it’s a time of greatest congestion on the highways, train stations and airports, what means that tickets need to be bought in advance. 20th May 2006, the feast of Zhōngqiū Jié was inscribed on the list of national intangible cultural heritage.
Genesis of festival and related legends
According to oral sources, this festival dates back to the Shang Dynasty, when the moon’s influence on the change of the seasons and agricultural production was observed by the ancient Chinese. To express their gratitude for the abundant crops, with the completion of the harvest for moon were prepared special gifts (Read more about Mooncake gifts). The form of celebration which looks more similar to the present one, festival gained during the Tang Dynasty, when Emperor Xuanzong discovered the myth of the Moon Palace. The first written source in which appears mention about festival, is “The Rites of Zhou“, book from the Western Zhou Dynasty. Widely celebrated as a folk festival, Zhōngqiū Jié became in the time of the Northern Song Dynasty.
This feast is inherently associated with legends. During the holiday worshiped is the moon goddess Chang’e, who to protect lieges against the tyranny of her husband’s, stole his elixir of immortality after drinking which she until now lives on the moon in the Lunar Palace. In another version of the same myth the goddess Chang’e lived in the headquarters of the immortals. One day, she bowled precious porcelain pitcher for what she has been sent down to the ground. The great hunter Hou Yi came across a girl and fell in love with her, but he was too poor to be able to marry her. Soon nine suns have showed up in the sky, threatening to destroy the earth because of the heat. Consummate archer shot down eight suns, leaving only one. Hou Yi became a king and he could finally marry Chang’e. As an additional reward for saving the earth, Queen of Heaven gave him the elixir of immortality. Hou Yi put it down, until he will be old and wise enough to drink it. One morning Chang’e, wandering the palace of her husband, noticed a strange brightness radiating from the vessel. Seeing that it is filled with potion, she drank it to the bottom. That caused that goddess flew out through the window straight to heaven. Hou Yi tried to shoot her down, but he missed. Chang’e was rising higher and higher, until the moon, which was covered with stones and cinnamon trees. While in she was already on the moon, she coughed out, because of the cold, portion of the potion, which turned into the rarest rabbit. Rabbit stood on its hind legs and began to smash cinnamon tree in a mortar to make a potion that allows Chang’e return to her husband. Another pass says that the rabbit was sent to the moon as a reward for his heroic stunt. He wanted to feed himself to encountered the three wise men, because in the opposed to the monkey and the fox, he was poor, so he had no food to share with wanderers. At the time when he wanted to throw himself into the fire, he was stopped by the sages and sent to the Moon Palace where he became friends with Chang’e.
Nowadays young Chinese women pray to the goddess during the festival, to ask for help them to fulfill their wishes of romantic love and a happy marriage.
The contemporary celebrations
This feast is an opportunity for joint meetings and meal which is eaten in the evening with a family in traditional costumes to make offerings to the moon. On this occasion, are prepared the traditional moon cakes, which round shape symbolize the full moon. Also with this rite is associated folktale, according to which at the end of the reign of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang, one of the leaders of the Red Turbans and his advisor Liu Bowen decided that the best way to coordinate an attack against the hated dynasty would be send out the order of the insurrection by the lunar cookies in connection with the forthcoming festival. Thanks to that the Mongols weren’t able to notice conspiracy. This message was cleverly hidden in the traditional cookies, in which were concealed pieces of paper with the date of the offensive. The attack was effective, Mongolian dynasty was overthrown, and Zhu Yuanzhang founded the Chinese Ming Dynasty and ruled as Hongwu Emperor.
Cookies are commonly eaten, but more often they are purchased also as a gift, than baked at home. Contrary to our assumptions, cookies usually aren’t sweet. The traditional filling is made of red bean paste and egg yolk, which symbolizes the full moon. Today it’s possible to find moon cakes flavored with lotus seeds, raspberries, bananas, apples, tea, mango, sesame, coffee, vanilla, and even cheese. Favorite stuffing for moon cake in many areas is also a meat or fish. Cookies are so popular that in China are sold ice cream with flavor of moon cakes.
In addition to the cookies are eaten as well rice and vegetables,which should be shared with the moon and the spirits of ancestors. Cinnamon wine is the most popular drink. On the table with a traditional dinner on the day of Mid-Autumn Festival appears also dishes of duck, pumpkin, river snails, and taro. The decoration for served dishes are pieces of watermelon cut in the shape of lotus petals symbolizing the meeting and nine interconnected roots of a lotus symbolizing peace.Traditionally, it also sets up a cups in the garden on tablets of stone where the family, after the point where the moon will be reflected in the center of the cups, drink coffee and leads conversation. With reference to the legends in the house prepares an altar with a statue of a rabbit, which in Chinese tradition is considered as a symbol of longevity, happiness and satisfaction. Statue is usually surrounded by yellow flowers of beans and fruits such as apples, pears, peaches, grapes, pomegranates, melons, oranges, and pomelos. Nowadays some people choose to celebrate outdoor, to be closer to the moon. Over time, more popular become places such as ancient man-made sites, natural scenic areas, countryside and skyscrapers. It’s also a time to connect the thoughts with relatives who live abroad.
Mid-Autumn Festival is an opportunity for games and activities. One type of activity, Ascent to Heaven (shàng tiāntáng) involves a young lady selected from a circle of women to “ascend” into the celestial realm. While being enveloped in the smoke of burning incense, she describes the beautiful sights and sounds she encounters. Another activity, Descent into the Garden (luò huāyuán), played among younger girls, detailed each girl’s visit to the heavenly gardens. According to legend, a flower tree represented her, and the number and color of the flowers indicated the sex and number of children she would have in her life time. Men played a game called Descent of the Eight Immortals (jiangbaxian), where one of the Eight Immortals took possession of a player, who would then assume the role of a scholar or warrior. Children would play a game called Encircling the Toad (guanxiamo), where the group would form a circle around a child chosen to be a Toad King and chanted a song that transformed the child into a toad. He would jump around like a toad until water was sprinkled on his head, in which he would then stop. In some parts of China, held dances for young men and women to find a partner. For example, young women are encouraged to throw their handkerchiefs to the crowd of men, and the one who wins and returns the handkerchief to the owner has a chance for a romance with her.
In addition, there are some other customs like playing lanterns, and dragon and lion dances in some regions, which are more known as Chinese New Year’s traditions. According to dēng mí tradition, on lampposts are customarily written puzzles, which later other people try to solve out. The unique customs of ethnic minorities are interesting as well, such as “chasing the moon” of Mongolians, and “steal vegetables or fruits” of the Dong people.
Their own traditions has also a city of Xiamen in southeast China’s Fujian Province. It is known with parade of illuminated mocks of boats and game calls bobing. It was created to help forget the soldiers fighting at the side of General Zheng Chenggong’a for the overthrow of Manchurians and the return of the Ming Dynasty, about the longing for family and home, which intensified with the advent of Mid-Autumn Festival. The game consists in throw the dice in a bowl and receiving winning layout of mesh.
Originallyplayedonly to win the mooncookies. Currentlyprize poolhas expanded. It’s possible to winhousehold appliances, cleaning products andmoney.
Want to know more about Mooncake gifts? Read our blog post!