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 10 September. The festival includes a variety of customs, such as making lanterns, worshipping the moon, reuniting with family, and making typical foods.
1. The myth
The Mid-Autumn festival is based on an ancient myth, which tells the story of Chang’e, the moon goddess. According to the story, the legendary Chinese archer Hou Yi shot down nine suns and left only one in the sky, preventing the planet from being overheated and burned down. After his courageous action, he was given an elixir from heaven that would enable him to become a god. In an effort to protect the elixir from a greedy man, Hou Yi’s wife, Chang’e, drank the elixir and floated to the moon together with a legendary rabbit (named Yutu) that accompanied her. Since then, the brokenhearted Hou Yi has prepared a yearly feast on the day when the moon is at its brightest, hoping to see Chang’e’ s shadow.
2. The celebrations around the world
The festival is celebrated in several ways, but customs slightly vary depending on the country. Celebrations mostly focus on family gatherings, eating special food, making offerings to the moon, and making lanterns.
In China, the Mid-Autumn festival is the second most important festivity after the Chinese New Year. During the festival, families worship and appreciate the moon together, enjoy family reunion’s dinners, make and hang festival lanterns, and eat autumn fruits such as pomelo (a large Asian citrus fruit) and starfruit (a sweet and sour fruit also known as carambola).
In a nutshell, the Chinese have 11 traditions to celebrate this festival:
- Reunite with family
- Admire the full moon
- Eat moon cakes
- Guess lantern riddles
- Worship the moon
- Pray to the moon
- Enjoy lion dance and dragon dance
- Visit relatives and give gifts
- Go shopping
- Go on a short trip
- Light and hang up lanterns
In South Korea, the Mid-Autumn festival is known as Chuseok. The celebrations last three days, during which Koreans travel back to their hometown to spend time with their families and worship their ancestors.
In Vietnam, the festival is called Tết Trung Thu or “Children’s Festival.” In this country, kids carry brightly lit lanterns and tour their neighborhoods singing songs. The Lion dance parade is another essential element of mid-autumn Vietnamese celebrations, with professional dancers and performers mimicking lions’ movements.
In Japan, the Mid-Autumn Festival is named Tsukimi (literally meaning “moon-viewing”). During the festivity, Japanese people decorate roofs with pampas grass and go to shrines to offer incense, while kids collect reeds to decorate doors. They also eat sticky rice dumplings called tsukimi dango while admiring the moon.
But there is one thing that all the Asian countries celebrating the Mid-Autumn festival have in common: It’s the mooncake!
3. The festival’s star: The mooncake
The main protagonist of the festival is the mooncake, a pastry with plenty of calories that symbolizes the full moon. People give mooncakes as gifts and serve them at family gatherings during the festival celebration.
Mooncakes can have sweet or savory fillings and are primarily round, to resemble the shape of the moon, but sometimes they can also be square-shaped. Sometimes, they are stamped on top with the name of the filling. The most common types of mooncake are made of lotus seed paste, red bean paste, salted egg yolk, nuts, and lard. Some more modern versions might include chocolate, truffles, foie gras, or ice cream.
Another recent popular alternative is the snow skin mooncake, a non-baked pastry made with a mochi-like dough that originated in Hong Kong.