Note: The next Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is celebrated on September 29, 2023
The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as Zhōngqiū Jié (中秋节) or Moon Festival, is one of the most important traditional Chinese festivals. Celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese lunar calendar, which usually falls in September or early October, this festival holds deep cultural and historical significance.
Origin and History
The origins of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival can be traced back over 3,000 years to ancient China during the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BCE). The term mid-autumn (中秋) first appeared in "Rites of Zhou", a written collection of rituals of the Western Zhou dynasty (1046–771 BCE). It was initially a harvest festival, celebrating the end of the autumn harvest season. The festival became more prominent during the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE) and has continued to evolve over the centuries. By the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the festival had become one of the main folk festivals in China.
One of the most enduring legends associated with the festival is the story of Chang'Er, the Moon Goddess. According to folklore, the earth once had 10 suns circling over it, each taking its turn in illuminating the earth with its light. But one day all the suns appeared together and began to scorch the earth. An archer named Hou Yi saved the earth by shooting down all but one sun, and he threatened to eliminate that one as well. This archer then stole the "Elixir of Life" from a goddess and tightened his control over the country. The archer's beautiful wife, named Chang Er, drank the elixir in order to save the people from her husband's tyrannical rule. After drinking the elixir, she became light and floated upwards to the moon. Hou Yi loved his wife so much, he didn't shoot down the moon and ended his oppression. The moon festival was celebrated since that time in honor of Chang Er.
Customs and Traditions
Mooncakes are perhaps the most iconic symbol of the Mid-Autumn Festival and were first used as offerings to the moon goddess as a form of gratitude for a successful harvest. These round pastries, typically filled with lotus seed paste, red bean paste, or various nuts, symbolize family unity and completeness. Mooncakes were popular during the Yuan dynasty, when China was ruled by Mongolians. Rebels, knowing that the Autumn Moon Festival was drawing near, ordered the making of special cakes. Inside each cake was a message with the outline of a planned attack on the Mongolians. On the night of the Moon Festival, the rebels attacked and overthrew the Mongolians, establishing the Chinese Ming dynasty. Moon cakes are still served during the festival to commemorate this victory and the restoration of Chinese rule. The round "mooncakes" are also symbolic of family unity and closeness.
Reunion Dinners: Similar to the Chinese New Year, the Mid-Autumn Festival is a time for family reunions. Families gather to enjoy a special dinner featuring dishes such as mooncakes, pomelos, and various seasonal fruits. The round shape of these foods symbolizes unity and togetherness.
Lanterns: Lighting lanterns is another popular tradition during the Festival. People decorate their homes and public spaces with colorful lanterns. Children often carry lanterns of various shapes and sizes, parading through parks and streets at night. The lanterns represent hopes for a bright future and are sometimes released into the sky or on water creating a beautiful spectacle.
Pomelos: Pomelos, a type of citrus fruit resembling a large grapefruit, are associated with the festival. They are often given as gifts and symbolize good luck and prosperity. Some people even carve designs or messages onto the pomelos to make them more decorative.
Dragon and Lion Dances: In some regions of China, dragon and lion dances are performed during the festival, adding a festive atmosphere to the celebrations. These dances are believed to bring good fortune and ward off evil spirits.
Tea-Drinking: Enjoying tea, particularly varieties like green tea and osmanthus tea, is a common tradition during the Mid-Autumn Festival. It complements the sweetness of mooncakes and fosters a sense of relaxation.
Moon gazing is another important part of the festival. On this day the moon is at its brightest and is a time for lovers to appreciate their togetherness. It is a quiet holiday characterized by peace and elegance. The Moon Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month.
The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival holds significant cultural and emotional importance for several reasons:
It is a time for families to come together, similar to Thanksgiving in Western culture. The act of sharing a meal and mooncakes reinforces the importance of family ties and unity.
As a harvest festival, it marks the end of the autumn harvest season, signifying abundance and prosperity. People express gratitude for the bountiful harvest and pray for continued good fortune.
The festival reinforces cultural identity and heritage. It is an opportunity for Chinese people, both at home and abroad, to connect with their cultural roots and celebrate their traditions.
Some individuals use this time for offerings and prayers to deities and ancestors, seeking blessings for health, wealth, and happiness.
The festival provides a canvas for artistic expression through the creation of intricate mooncake designs, lantern decorations, and other festive crafts.
The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is a time-honored tradition that celebrates family, unity, and the bountiful harvest. With its deep cultural significance, rich history, and meaningful customs, it continues to be one of China's most cherished festivals, bringing people together to appreciate their heritage and share in the joy of the season. Whether through mooncakes, lanterns, or family gatherings, this festival exemplifies the beauty of Chinese culture and its enduring traditions.