Sometimes called the Moon Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival is one of China’s biggest holidays. It’s celebrated late September or early October and has roots in the Shang dynasty tradition of worshipping the moon.
One of the most common traditions associated with the Moon Festival involves making and eating mooncakes: sweet round cakes which are similar to English fruitcakes or plum pudding. There are hundreds of varieties, but typically they have a filling of nuts, melon seeds, lotus-seed paste, Chines dates, almonds, minced meats and orange peels.
Origin of the Moon Festival
As most Chinese traditions that have passed through many centuries, cultures and locations, the Moon Festival also has a number of legends associated with it. The most famous legend is that of Chang’e and Houyi.
A long time ago, a terrible drought plagued the earth. Ten suns burned in the sky, there were no trees and the rivers ran dry. The King of Heaven sent Houyi down to earth to help. With his red bow and white arrows, he shot down 9 suns. The weather immediately changed, the air was cooler and rains filled the rivers with fresh water. Humanity was saved.
One day, a beautiful girl named Chang’e encountered Houyi. She recognized his red bow and white arrows and knew that he was the savior of the earth. She offered him a gift as a token of respect and invited him for a drink. The two fell in love and they got married.
Unfortunately, Chang’e was a mortal being and not someone sent down from the heavens like Houyi. So he decided to look for an elixer of eternal life. He finds the Western Queen Mother, who thanks him for al his good deeds and gives him an elixer. She tells him that if they share the elixer, that they both will enjoy eternal life. But if only one takes it, then he or she will ascend to Heaven and become immortal.
Houyi returned home and the couple decided to drink the elixer on the 15th day of the eight lunar month, when the moon is full and bright.
But a man named Feng Meng hears about their plan and intends to drink the elixer to become immortal. When Houyi returns from a hunt, Feng Meng takes his chance and murders Houyi. He then runs to Houyi’s home and forces Chang’e to give him the elixer. Without hesitation, she picks up the elixer and drinks is.
Chang’e runs to her dead husband, weeping bitterly in grief. The elixer kicks in and Chang’e feels herself being lifted towards heaven.
Chang’e decides to live on the moon because it is nearest to earth, and to her beloved Houyi. Never does she forget the love she had for Houyi.
Other Mid-Autumn Traditions
People often create an altar and burn incense in honor of Chang’e. These altars are set up in the open air, facing the moon. People also tend to craft lighting lanterns or enjoy an elaborate family dinner.