The Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节) also called the Mooncake Festival has ancient origins and is the most important Chinese festival after New Year’s Eve. Let’s discover the origins and traditions of this festival!
The tradition of the Mid-Autumn Festival dates back 3,000 years to the Zhou dynasty and was consolidated during the Tang dynasty. During the celebrations, the Chinese emperor would make a prayer to the moon for an abundant harvest throughout the following year.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunisolar calendar with a full moon at night, corresponding to mid-September to early October of the Gregorian calendar.
This year, the festival falls on 21 September.
As mentioned above, the Mid-Autumn Festival is also called the Mooncake Festival, named after these typical Chinese sweets that remind us of the moon and the time when the Chinese emperor prayed to the moon for the harvest.
Tradition has it that Mooncakes, filled with red bean cream or sweet lotus paste, are eaten within the family as a sign of togetherness. In fact, in China, the round shape symbolises “fullness” and “union”: the head of the family would take a mooncake, cut it into wedges and distribute it to the other family members so they could all enjoy it together.
Creating colourful lanterns
This is a favourite activity of children who, together with their parents, create colourful lanterns of all sizes and shapes. On the evening of the Mid-Autumn Festival, these lanterns are illuminated and metaphorically become a beacon that lights the way for people to prosperity and good fortune.
Chinese tradition is full of interesting legends such as The Festival of Stars in Love or The Full Autumn Moon, which you can read on our blog. The Mid-Autumn Festival is linked to the legend of Chang’e, the goddess of the moon and immortality, and her husband Houyi.
The legend is described as follows:
In the ancient past, there was a hero named Hou Yi who was excellent at archery. His wife was Chang’e. One year, the ten suns rose into the sky together, causing a great disaster for the people. Yi shot down nine of the suns and left only one to shine.“Handbook of Chinese Mythology’ by Lihui Yang
Legend has it that an immortal in heaven admired Hou Yi’s courage so much that he gave him the elixir of immortality. Even though he was unknowing, Yi did not want to become immortal without his beloved wife Chang’e, to whom he entrusted the bottle of elixir.
On 15 August, a wicked apprentice named Peng Meng tried to steal the elixir while Hou Yi was out hunting. To prevent Peng Meng from living forever, Chang’e anticipated him and drank the miraculous drink, becoming immortal herself.
Chang’e flew to heaven and, in order to remain close to her husband whom she loved very much, decided to choose the moon as her home. Her husband Hou Yi, hearing the news with great sorrow, began to offer gifts to the moon.
The people who knew him, out of solidarity, began to participate in these offerings, asking the moon goddess to grant them health and prosperity.
Teas harvested in autumn
During this holiday, people pray for a prosperous and abundant harvest. In autumn, varieties of tea are also harvested to be sold and consumed all over the world.