Mid-Autumn Festival

Celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival

Also known as the “Full Moon Festival,” the Mid-Autumn festival falls on the fifteen day of the eighth lunar month. At this time, the moon’s orbit is at its lowest angle to the horizon, making the moon appear brighter and larger than any other time of the year. In the Western tradition, it is also called the Hunter’s Moon or Harvest Moon. According to the lunar calendar, it is also the exact middle of autumn (which begins in the seventh month and ends in the ninth).

To the Chinese, this festival is similar to the American Thanksgiving holiday, celebrating a bountiful harvest. Compared to many Chinese festivals that are inundated with vibrant colors and sounds, the Mid-Autumn festival remains more subdued. Traditionally celebrated outdoors under the moonlight, people eat moon cakes and gaze at the moon. In modern times, barbecues with families and friends are also common.

Legendary Origins

Like most Chinese holidays, the mid-autumn festival is rich in oral history and legend. According to stories, Hou Yi was a tyrannical ruler who won the elixir of immortality by shooting 9 suns out of the sky with his bow. But his wife, knowing that the people’s lives would remain miserable for all eternity if Hou Yi lived forever, drank the potion. The fluids made her lighter, and she floated up into the moon. Even today, Chinese like to think of the moon as home of Chang E.

A Historical Anecdote

The Mongol Hordes of Ghengis Khan subjugated the Chinese, and established the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th Century. However, many Chinese resented the fact that they were ruled by a foreign regime. In the 14th Century, Liu Bouwen helped plot the overthrow of the Yuan Dynasty by organizing resistance. Secret messages were passed along in mooncakes.

Mooncakes

The ubiquitous fare at any Chinese celebration of the Full Moon festival, mooncakes are a flaked pastry stuffed with a wide variety of fillings. Egg Yolk, lotus seed paste, red bean paste, and coconut are common, but walnuts, dates, and other fillings can be found as well. Most have characters for longevity or harmony inscribed on the top. Special cakes can reach almost one foot in diameter.

Copyright © 2000 by The Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco.