All You Need To Know About The Mid-Autumn Festival

Did you know the mid-autumn festival is coming up this September 15th, 2016! The Mid-Autumn Festival or Mooncake Festival is one of the most celebrated holidays in China, it is held on the 15th day of the 8th month on the lunar calendar. It’s a day to gather with family and friends, give thanks, and pray. Here’s what you need to know to prepare for it!

History of the Mid-Autumn Festival

The celebration of the mid-autumn festival can be traced back to the Shang Dynasty during the 16th to the 10th century BCE, where different ethnic groups gave thanks and worshipped different gods after the harvest. For example, the Hakka people worshipped the mountain gods, while the Baiyue people worshipped dragons who brought rain for their crops. The celebrations eventually spread throughout China due to the Emperor of the Tang Dynasty who began formal celebrations.

It is celebrated on the 15th of the 8th month because on the Chinese lunar calendar, the 8th month is the 2nd month of autumn which is considered the middle of autumn, thus the mid-autumn festival (even though it is often in late summer). And the 15th of each month on the lunar calendar is when the moon is considered to be at its roundest and brightest, however, the Chinese lunar calendar does not match up perfectly with the moon so this is also often not the case. This date is also supposed to be typically when rice crops are mature and can be harvested, therefore people would be giving thanks for their fruitful harvest.

Overall the most important part of the festival is the worshipping of the moon. Ancient Chinese believed that the moon and water are linked with rejuvenation and thus women’s menstruations were called monthly water. There are many tales around the moon goddess that are definitely worth a read!

Long Standing Traditions

Back in the days, the celebrations were to celebrate the successful harvests of the season, but nowaday it’s more just a special occasion to reunite with friends and family. Although modern day celebrations are not the same as those in ancient time, there are still many time-honored traditions still practiced today.

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Eating mooncakes is probably the most commonly known. Made traditionally from a red bean or lotus seed stuffed crust, these round sweet cakes are a symbol of completeness and reunion. Typically shared among family and friends, eating mooncakes together is a sign of unity and completeness of families. Nowadays mooncakes come in all shape and sizes and have numerous flavors and they also range vastly in price, some costing more than $1000 USD!

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Lighting lanterns have been a tradition for a long time and although the purpose is unclear, they have become a symbol of the festival itself. A tradition that some practice for fun is writing riddles on the lanterns for guest and passersby to solve.

As for the main meal of the reunion, you will often find cassia wine being served along with many dishes from ancient China such as the nine-jointed lotus roots symbolizing peace and watermelons cut into lotus petals symbolizing reunions. Food offerings are also brought out to alters or courtyards for the moon goddess and often include a large selection of fruit.

The Mid-Autumn festival is also a popular time for matchmaking and marriages. In some parts of China, matchmaking dances are held for young men and women to meet. Women would also pray to help fulfill their romantic wishes and couples also celebrate their marriage and pray for future happiness.

How You Can Celebrate

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Although the Mid-Autumn festival is a great time for celebration, it is not the best time to go to China if you plan on sightseeing. Many families will be on holiday and tourist spots will be crowded. But now that you understand what it’s all about you can celebrate in the comfort of your own home. Head on towards your local China town and pick up some incense, tea leaves, moon cake, and lanterns. If you’re very handy, you can even make your own lanterns and moon cakes! Invite your friends and family over to eat moon cakes, drink tea, and share your new knowledge of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival!

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Monica Guan

Monica Guan

Monica is a Canadian-Chinese travel blogger and marketer that has spent time in beijing, nanjing, guangzhou, shenzhen, hangzhou,and xitang, shanghai. When she isn't watching YouTube videos, you can find her writing or creating videos.
Monica Guan