Chinese culture is deeply embedded in traditional festivals. The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, also called the Chinese Moon Festival, is the second most important festival to Chinese people after the Spring Festival. It is traditionally celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eight lunar month. This year, the festival will take place on September 8 and Chinese people will have a three-day holiday to celebrate it.
The origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival derive from an ancient Chinese myth. Legend has it that it was this day when Chang-E, a lunar goddess, first flew to the moon. One version of the story goes like this:
Chang-E was once a beautiful Earth woman married to a young hunter named Houyi. One day, something strange happened. Ten suns arose in the sky instead of one, blazing the earth. Houyi, an expert archer, stepped forward to try to save the earth. He successfully shot down nine of the suns, becoming an instant hero. In order to reward him, the Jade Emperor gave him a magic immortal pill. After some bad people heard this news, they came to Houyi’s house to steal it. In order to protect it, Chang-E swallowed the magic pill. As a result, she immediately became immortal and flew to the moon, forever separated from her husband.
Today, Chinese people believe a full moon is a symbol of peace, prosperity, and family reunion. When the full moon rises, families get together to gaze at its lunar beauty, sing moon poems, and eat mooncakes, which are the traditional snacks of the festival.
Typical mooncakes are round pastries, measuring about 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter and 1.5 inches (3-4 cm) thick. Mooncakes feature a thin crust that may contain yolks from salted duck eggs and are usually stuffed with red bean or lotus seed paste. Traditional mooncakes have an imprint on top consisting of the Chinese characters for “longevity” or “harmony.” Because of the delicious taste, and good meanings, mooncakes are often eaten in other countries throughout Asia such as Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand.
To the Chinese, there are three important meanings behind the Mid-Autumn Festival: 1) gathering, as family and friends reunite to celebrate, 2) thanksgiving, to appreciate the life-giving harvest, and 3) prayer, in order to bestow both blessings and good fortune upon parents, babies, and lovers.
Year after year, people look forward to enjoying time with their families during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Such traditional festivals are precious treasures, as they are expressions of China’s rich, 5,000-year-old culture. Celebrating holidays like the Mid-Autumn Festival, is one of the easiest—and most fun–ways to get to know Chinese culture and make new Chinese friends.