Falling on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar, the Mid-Autumn Festival is the second most important festival in China – taking a back seat only to the Chinese New Year. The festival celebrates the harvest and always occurs in the middle of autumn (with a full moon) as the leaves are falling on Olin ’neath the cover of October skies. This year, the holiday falls on October 4th which happens to be within the National Day holiday (October 1-7) in China — a very popular time for traveling around to see friends and relatives.
The holiday is also referred to as the Moon Festival because it falls at the time of the year when the moon is at its roundest and brightest. It is observed in China, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia; many similar festivals revolving around a full moon are celebrated in other parts of Asia.
Folklore tells us that the archer Houyi (pictured) was awarded an immortality elixir by shooting down nine of the ten suns that scorched the Earth; but he chose to hide it away at home since he didn’t want to be apart from his wife Chang’e. Unfortunately, Chang’e had no choice but to drink the elixir when another figure, named Fengmeng, came for it when Houyi was out hunting. After Chang’e ascended to the heavens and started to reside on the Moon, Houyi, to remember his wife, displayed the foods she liked and created mooncakes that would allow for temporary reunion of the couple.
The tradition continued. Nowadays, family and friends gather for reunions and outdoor barbecues, give thanks for the harvest and for family, and pray for many of the important things in life including love, fertility, beauty, good fortune and longevity to name a few. Mooncakes can be found in a wide variety of flavors – from lotus seeds to meat filled, and they are still made the way they were hundreds of years ago. Close to Mid-Autumn festival, we always crave mooncakes; it’s as if there’s a little clock inside us that screams for mooncakes once every fall.
In addition to the Chinese mooncakes which are widely known, there are other food that are common on this very special occasion. For example, in Korea, families come together and enjoy a traditional South Korean dish called Tteokguk, or rice cake soup. It consists of a rich broth and thin slices of rice cake with flavorful toppings that commonly include egg and beef. The rice cake used for the bowl is white and long representing a long and fresh new life. Other traditions in China include hiding puzzles in lanterns or flying Kongming lanterns, but they are less popular today.
My mom and dad (this is Jingyi) would visit me at my high school for the holiday and bring various kinds of mooncakes: egg mooncakes, flaky mooncakes, mochi mooncakes and even ice cream ones. My memories of Mid-Autumn Festival involve sharing the mooncakes with close friends and family.
You might say Mid-Autumn Festival is a little like Thanksgiving in America only the Chinese, the Korean, and the Vietnamese have celebrated the harvest during the autumn since the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600 -1046 BCE), so thousands of years versus hundreds.
As in the past at Olin and around the globe, we will recognize this holiday by staring at the moon! It’s going to be an opportunity for culture sharing and in the words of Van Morrison, a fantabulous night to eat mooncakes (and dumplings) and listen to music and the sound of the breezes that blow. Come celebrate with us under the moon (and the lanterns) on October 4th.
In this article, we have borrowed some lyrics from Moondance, a song by Van Morrison.