The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival, is a traditional festival celebrated in Chinese culture. Similar holidays are celebrated in Japan (Tsukimi), Korea (Chuseok), Vietnam (Tết Trung Thu), and other countries in East and Southeast Asia.
It is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, which is normally between mid-September and early October. This year, the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on Saturday 10th of September.
The full moon symbolizes unity, which should resonate strongly in today’s fast-paced world. Here are some of the most practiced traditions during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
1. Watching the Full Moon
The full moon is the symbol of a family reunion, reminding people of their hometowns and loved ones. Gazing at the moon is an ancient tradition dating back to the Zhou dynasty (around 500 BC) when people held ceremonies to welcome the full moon. In modern times, after a family reunion dinner, some people choose to go outdoors to admire the full moon on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival.
2. Eating Moon Cakes
The Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as the Mooncake Festival. The cakes, typically round, symbolizing the full moon, are presented as gifts to relatives and friends. The tradition of moon cakes can be traced back to the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279 BC), even though, the moon cakes were not round at that time.
Chinese moon cakes are small baked cakes, made with a variety of fillings like salted duck eggs, lotus seeds paste, fruits, and sometimes even meat. A cup of Chinese tea along with moon cakes is a true delight.
Hanging up lanterns is one of the interesting customs of the Mid-Autumn Festival. This activity is called 竖中秋 (shù zhōng qiū) in Chinese. It is said that the higher the lanterns are hung, the luckier the family will be.
The lantern is usually made from bamboo strips shaped like fruit and birds. Children are particularly fond of making their own traditional lanterns. When darkness falls, locals place candles inside the lanterns and hang them outside.
Every year, lantern carnivals and exhibitions are held in parks and other public places, during which lanterns of various colors, patterns, and styles are on display. The entire area is decorated with beautiful lighting.
4. Praying to the Moon
In Chinese legend, the old man under the moon (月老 yuè lǎo), a kind of Chinese Cupid who is in charge of love and marriage, would tie a red thread between a couple who was fated to fall in love with each other on the Mid-Autumn Festival. With the help of the old man’s red thread, the couple will have a good marriage and live happily forever.
In ancient times, unmarried boys, girls, and their parents would worship the moon and pray to the old man for a good marriage on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Some people in south China still believe the moon would bless young couples. Married women who bathe in the moonlight and pray to the moon would be pregnant with a baby boy soon.
5. Lion Dance and Dragon Dance
Traditional lion dance and dragon dance play an important role in Chinese cultural and religious celebrations. A team of dancers carries a long dragon on poles. By moving the poles, the dancers can make the dragon sway and weave. When dragon dances are held on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, the dragon’s body is illuminated from within by lanterns or candles. In Hong Kong, the fire dragon dance is very popular.
6. Lantern Riddles
Besides hanging up lanterns outsides, Chinese people usually write some interesting riddles on the lanterns and have other people try to guess the answers.
The history of guessing lantern riddles is over 1500 years. In ancient times, many single men and women looked to find the right person by guessing the riddles. Some Chinatown or Southeast Asian countries hold lantern riddle contests on the Mid-Autumn night and the Lantern Festival (during Chinese New Year).
7. Worshiping the Moon
Many customs of the Mid-Autumn Festival are associated with the moon, so the festival is also called the Moon Festival. In ancient times, Chinese people believed the moon governed all vital changes, especially the harvest of grain.
On the night of the Moon Festival, people will put a table outside under the moon. Then burn incense, put moon cakes and fruits as sacrifices on the table, face the moon, and pray for fortune. There was another saying that the custom of moon worship was related to the goddess of the moon – Chang’e. Chinese people believed in rejuvenation being associated with the moon and women.
According to the legend of the Moon Festival, Chang’e ate the elixir to save ordinary people and flew to the moon. So, people worship the moon to memorialize here on the Mid-Autumn night.