中 秋 節
The Mid-Autumn Festival is a Chinese holiday falling on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, around the time of the Autumn equinox. The name "Mid-Autumn Festival" is a direct translation of the Chinese name, Zhongqiu Jie. However, this holiday is also referred to in English as the "Moon Festival" due to the significance of the full moon that occurs on this day.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is the third most important holiday in the Chinese calendar, outranked only by Chinese New Year and the Dragon Boat Festival. During this day, family members reunite and have dinner together in a fashion similar to American Thanksgiving. Because the full moon is round and symbolizes completeness, the Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as the "Festival of Reunion." They say that during this time, the moon's orbit is at its lowest angle to the horizon, so the moon appears larger than any other time of the year. Also, if any family members are absent, it is common to remark that a connection exists because everyone is gazing at the same moon at night. Eating moon cakes during this holiday is a must, but there are usually no other specific foods that must be eaten during this holiday.
Families may also host moon-viewing parties where they go to some clear, outdoor location at night to gaze at the moon. They might drink wine, eat moon cake or fruit, and recite many famous Chinese poems about the moon, or they can retell Chinese legends about the moon. However, busy modern lifestyles and transplantation of family members to far flung places have made such elaborate outdoor picnics less common in recent years. But most Chinese people will at least try to make a point to look at the moon even if only through a window. My family often had to make do with nibbling on moon cakes while sitting on the front stoop.
The fascination with the moon may have its roots in ancient rituals. Being a largely agricultural society, the planting and harvesting of crops was of central importance and was dictated by the dates on the lunar calendar. The 15th day of the 8th month is around the time when rice is harvested, so the holiday may have come from farmers giving thanks for the bounty. Also, celebrating the singular beauty of moon seems to be done quite often in Chinese art, poetry, literature. The famous ancient poet, Li Po is said to have drowned while trying to catch the moon's reflection on the surface of a lake. He was also said to be drunk.
In communities with a large Chinese population, there are often other activities like street fairs and parades. There can be performances of traditional Chinese dances. Dragon and lion dances are usually boisterous and said to bring good luck and ward off disease and misfortune.
At night, beautifully decorated lanterns (denglong) of many shapes and sizes may be featured in a procession or just as ornamental lighting.
There are four major Chinese legends that are associated with the moon and are often retold during this holiday. Being folk legends, many variations of these stories exist.
Sources: parents, life
- The moon goddess: Chang Er (嫦娥) acquired the immortality pills that was meant for her husband. She resides in a palace on the moon. Her image is often used to decorate mooncake tins.
- The old woodcutter: Wu Gang angered an immortal with his impatience. As punishment, he was sent to the moon to chop down a magical tree that heals itself immediately itself with every cut and makes his task endless.
- The jade rabbit: Three immortals transformed disguised themselves as poor old men and begged for something to eat from various animals. The rabbit didn't have food so jumped into a fire to cook itself for them. The rabbit was turned into a minor deity and allowed to live on the moon.
- The overthrow of the Yuan dynasty: This historical event is one of the major reasons people eat moon cake on this day.
- The matchmaker: There is a deity on the moon who has a tablet which contains the names of everyone who will marry. This day is when he visits Earth. Some people also believe this is a lucky day to get married. This story was not traditionally told in my family so it may be less well-known.