Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋节[zhōng qiū jié]

Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival or the Mooncake Festival, falls on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, which is in September or early October in the Gregorian calendar. For 2023, it is on September 29th.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is the second most important festival in China after Chinese New Year. It is celebrated in many East Asian communities, and has since become associated with family reunions and harvest. Chinese people celebrate by gathering for dinners, eating mooncakes月饼 while admiring the full moon and lighting lanterns灯笼. People have long believed that worshipping the moon and eating together around a round table will bring them good luck and happiness. Chinese see the roundness in mooncakes a symbol of reunion and happiness.

What is mooncake

Typical mooncakes are round pastries, measuring about 4 inches in diameter and 1.25-1.5 inches in thickness. A rich thick filling usually made from red bean or lotus seed paste is surrounded by a thin crust (approximately 1/8 of an inch) and may contain one or more whole salted duck egg yolks in their center as the symbol of the full moon. Mooncakes are usually eaten in small wedges accompanied by tea.

There are thousands of regional and contemporary variations. In southwestern Yunnan province, locals prepare the filling using flowers and ham. In Suzhou, near Shanghai, mooncakes have a flaky crust and meat filling, and the treats are enjoyed year round. Beijing’s mooncakes are known for their delicacy with flavors like red bean.

Nowadays mooncakes have been infused with innovative new elements, including ice cream filling, snow skin crust and exotic flavors like green tea, tiramisu, durian etc. Filing in contemporary style mooncakes has diversified to include just about anything which can be made into paste.

Legend of mooncake

Mooncakes were used by the Ming revolutionaries in their effort to overthrow the Mongolian rulers of China at the end of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). The Yuan Dynasty was China’s first foreign-led dynasty, in between the Chinese Song and Ming Dynasties. Zhu YuanZhang, founder of Mind Dynasty (1368-1644) united the different resistance forces and wanted to organized an uprising. However, due to the strict search by government, it was very difficult to pass messages. The counselor Liu BoWen later thought out the great idea of hiding notes with “uprise on the night of Mid-Autumn Day” in mooncakes and had them sent to different forces. This helped the Han Chinese overthrown their Mongolian rulers.

The story of the goddess Chang E is the most widely acceptable tale associated with Mid-Autumn Festival. It is said that in ancient time, ten suns existed and the heat of which ravaged the world with a terrible drought. At the request of the Emperor of Heaven, the great archer Hou Yi shot down nine of the suns, saving life on Earth. As a reward for this feat, Hou Yi was given the elixir of immortality, which he hid in his home, planning to share it with his beautiful wife Chang E. While Hou Yi was away hunting, one of his apprentice Peng Meng, came to his home to steal the elixir. Chang E determined to keep it out of Peng’s hands, drank the potion and ascended to the heavens, where she took the moon as her home. On realizing what happened to his wife, Hou Yi was so sad, but was amazed to see a figure which looked just like his wife appeared in the Moon. He took the food liked by Chang E to an altar and offered it as a sacrifice for her. After hearing that Chang E became a goddess, folk people also offered sacrifices to Chang E to pray for peace and good luck. Since then, the custom of sacrificing to the moon has been spread among the folklore.

Links to short clips about Mid-Autumn Festival:

Mid Autumn Festival story and how Chinese celebrate it

Chinese Poem: "Thinking on a Quiet Night" 靜夜思

Making of mooncake

Trraditional mooncakes need to be baked after molding. After baking, Cantonese style mooncakes should be stored in an airtight container for a few days before consumption, so that the oil will soften the crust and create a shiny surface.