Mid Autum Festival is Coming

The Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋节; traditonal Chinese中秋節), also known as Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival, is a traditional festival celebrated by many East and Southeast Asian people. It is the second-most important holiday after Chinese New Year with a history dating back over 3,000 years, when the Emperor of China  worshiped the moon for bountiful harvests.

The 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. On this day, the Chinese believe that the moon is at its brightest and fullest size, coinciding with harvest time in the middle of Autumn.

Lanterns of all size and shapes, are carried and displayed – symbolic beacons that light people's path to prosperity and good fortune. Mooncakes, a rich pastry typically filled with sweet-bean, yolk, meat or lotus-seed paste, are traditionally eaten during this festival.

 

----From Wikipedia& Xinhuanet/East Tour China

Mid-Autumn Festival lanterns at a shop in Hong Kong

A notable part of celebrating the holiday is the carrying of brightly lit lanterns , lighting lanterns on towers, or floating sky lanterns.Another tradition involving lanterns is to write riddles on them and have other people try to guess the answers : 灯谜;

It is difficult to discern the original purpose of lanterns in connection to the festival, but it is certain that lanterns were not used in conjunction with moon-worship prior to the Tang Dynasty. Traditionally, the lantern has been used to symbolize fertility, and functioned mainly as a toy and decoration. But today the lantern has come to symbolize the festival itself. In the old days, lanterns were made in the image of natural things, myths, and local cultures.Over time, a greater variety of lanterns could be found as local cultures became influenced by their neighbors.

As China gradually evolved from an agrarian society to a mixed agrarian-commercial one, traditions from other festivals began to be transmitted into the Mid-Autumn Festival, such as the putting of lanterns on rivers to guide the spirits of the drowned as practiced during the Ghost Festival, which is observed a month before. Hong Kong fishermen during the Qing Dynasty, for example, would put up lanterns on their boats for the Ghost Festival and keep the lanterns up until Mid-Autumn Festival.

 

----From Wikipedia& Xinhuanet/East Tour China

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Making and sharing mooncakes is one of the hallmark traditions of this festival. In Chinese culture, a round shape symbolizes completeness and reunion. Thus, the sharing and eating of round mooncakes among family members during the week of the festival signifies the completeness and unity of families. In some areas of China, there is a tradition of making mooncakes during the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival. The senior person in that household would cut the mooncakes into pieces and distribute them to each family member, signifying family reunion. In modern times, however, making mooncakes at home has given way to the more popular custom of giving mooncakes to family members, although the meaning of maintaining familial unity remains.

Although typical mooncakes can be around a few centimetres in diameter, imperial chefs have made some as large as 8 meters in diameter, with its surface pressed with designs of Chang'e, cassia trees, or the Moon-Palace. One tradition is to pile 13 mooncakes on top of each other to mimic a pagoda, the number 13 being chosen to represent the 13 months in a full Chinese lunisolar year.The spectacle of making very large mooncakes continues in modern China.

According to Chinese folklore, a Turpan businessman offered cakes to Emperor Taizong of Tang in his victory against the xiongnu  on the fifteenth day of the eighth Chinese lunisolar month. Taizong took the round cakes and pointed to the moon with a smile, saying, "I'd like to invite the toad to enjoy the hú (胡) cake." After sharing the cakes with his ministers, the custom of eating these hú cakes spread throughout the country. Eventually these became known as mooncakes. Although the legend explains the beginnings of mooncake-giving, its popularity and ties to the festival began during the Song Dynasty.  (906–1279 CE).

Another popular legend concerns the Han Chinese's uprising against the ruling Mongols at the end of the Yuan Dynasty. (1280–1368 CE), in which the Han Chinese used traditional mooncakes to conceal the message that they were to rebel on Mid-Autumn Day. Because of strict controls upon Han Chinese families imposed by the Mongols in which only 1 out of every 10 households was allowed to own a knife guarded by a Mongolian guard, this coordinated message was important to gather as many available weapons as possible.

 

 

----From Wikipedia& Xinhuanet/East Tour China

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Moon worship

Chang'e , the Moon Goddess of Immortality

Houyi helplessly looking at his wife Chang'e flying off to the moon after she drank the elixir.

An important part of the festival celebration is moon worship. The ancient Chinese believed in rejuvenation being associated with the moon and water, and connected this concept to the menstruation of women, calling it "monthly water".The Zhuang people , for example, have an ancient fable saying the sun and moon are a couple and the stars are their children, and when the moon is pregnant, it becomes round, and then becomes crescent after giving birth to a child. These beliefs made it popular among women to worship and give offerings to the moon on this evening. In some areas of China, there are still customs in which "men do not worship the moon and the women do not offer sacrifices to the kitchen gods.

In China, the Mid-Autumn festival symbolizes the family reunion and on this day, all families will appreciate the moon in the evening, because it is the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunisolar calendar, when the moon is at its fullest. There is a beautiful myth about the Mid-Autumn festival, that is Chang'e flying to the moon.

Offerings are also made to a more well-known lunar deity, Chang'e, known as the Moon Goddness of Immortality. The myths associated with Chang'e explain the origin of moon worship during this day. One version of the story is as follows, as described in Lihui Yang's Handbook of Chinese Mythology:

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 in the sky together, causing great disaster to the people. Yi shot down nine of the suns and left only one to provide light. An immortal admired Yi and sent him the elixir of immortality. Yi did not want to leave Chang'e and be immortal without her, so he let Chang'e keep the elixir. However, Peng Meng, one of his apprentices, knew this secret. So, on the fifteenth of August in the Chinese lunisolar calendar, when Yi went hunting, Peng Meng broke into Yi's house and forced Chang'e to give the elixir to him. Chang'e refused to do so. Instead, she swallowed it and flew into the sky. Since she loved her husband and hoped to live nearby, she chose the moon for her residence. When Yi came back and learned what had happened, he felt so sad that he displayed the fruits and cakes Chang'e liked in the yard and gave sacrifices to his wife. People soon learned about these activities, and since they also were sympathetic to Chang'e they participated in these sacrifices with Yi.

“when people learned of this story, they burnt incense on a long altar and prayed to Chang ‘e, now the goddess of the moon, for luck and safety. The custom of praying to the moon on Mid-Autumn Day has been handed down for thousands of years since that time."

Handbook of Chinese Mythology also describes an alternate common version of the myth:

After the hero Houyi shot down nine of the ten suns, he was pronounced king by the thankful people. However, he soon became a conceited and tyrannical ruler. In order to live long without death, he asked for the elixir from Xiwangmu . But his wife, Chang'e, stole it on the fifteenth of August because she did not want the cruel king to live long and hurt more people. She took the magic potion to prevent her husband from becoming immortal. Houyi was so angry when discovered that Chang'e took the elixir, he shot at his wife as she flew toward the moon, though he missed. Chang'e fled to the moon and became the spirit of the moon. Houyi died soon because he was overcome with great anger. Thereafter, people offer a sacrifice to Chang'e on every fifteenth day of eighth month to commemorate Chang'e's action.

 

----From Wikipedia& Xinhuanet/East Tour China

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The festival was a time to enjoy the successful reaping of rice and wheat with food offerings made in honor of the moon. Today, it is still an occasion for outdoor reunions among friends and relatives to eat mooncakes and watch the moon, a symbol of harmony and unity. During a year of a solar eclipse, it is typical for governmental offices, banks, and schools to close extra days in order to enjoy the extended celestial celebration an eclipse brings.

It's also a time for family reunion. 

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Post time: Sep-10-2021