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  • Harris Waterston

The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival

The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as Mooncake Festival or Moon Festival, is a Chinese tradition. It is one of the most important holidays in Chinese culture. The popularity of this festival is on par with that of Chinese New Year, also being one of the most important holidays in Chinese calendar.

The origin of the Chinese Mid-Autumn dates back over 3,000 years. The festival is held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunisolar calendar. On the day there is a full moon at night, corresponding to mid-September of the Gregorian calendar. The Chinese believe that the moon on this specific day is at its brightest and fullest size matching with the harvest time in the middle of Autumn.

There are many folk stories regarding the origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival, but one of the most well-known stories is the legend of Hou Yi and Chang’e. According to the myth there were once ten suns in the sky, and Hou Yi shot nine of them down to save the earth from being scorched. Hou Yi was then rewarded an elixir of immortality. Unfortunately, an apprentice tried to steal the elixir and Hou Yi’s wife, Change’s had to drink it herself.

Weightless and immortal, Change’s ascended until she reached the moon, where she resides as the Moon Goddess, together with the Jade Rabbit. That is also why the rabbit is a motif in so many Mid-Autumn festivities. To this day people try to see Change’s and the Jade Rabit in the shadows of the moon.

On this day people enjoy doing all the different traditions that they might have but some popular ones are, reunions because the moon represents reunions families gather, usually for a family meal which ends with mooncakes, glutinous rice balls and seasonal fruits. Another mid-Autumn tradition would be to solve lantern riddles. Riddles that were written on slips of paper that would be attached too lanterns and usually contained auspicious messages of wisdom and good fortune.

There are a couple of Mid-Autumn delicacies, but there is one that is very traditional that you will encounter at every reunion dinner. They are called Mooncakes which you have probably heard of at some point. They are a quintessential symbol of the Mid-Autumn Festival. These round pastries embody the full moon, symbolising unity and harmony. Traditionally they contain a lotus seed paste and a salted egg yolk centre. Though over the years bakeries have developed a wide variety of flavours, from frozen snow skin mooncakes to those with tea, coffee, truffles and mochi fillings. Mooncakes are notoriously filling hence people cut them up into wedges and share with their loved ones.

If you would like to experience the Mid-Autumn Festival yourself, the best place is Chinatown which will host lots of festivities.

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