What is the Mid-autumn festival, and what does the festival celebrate or represent?
Mid-Autumn Festival Meaning
The Mid-autumn festival, also known as the mooncake festival or the Moon Festival, is an important celebration for the Chinese people because it is a family reunion celebration akin to Thanksgiving in the West. It is an important time for families, and it is the second-most important festival in China – the biggest and the most important celebration for the Chinese people is the New Year’s Celebration, also called the Spring Festival. The mid-autumn festival is a traditional celebration that takes place every lunar year on the Chinese or Gregorian Calendar, specifically on the 8th month of the year on the 15th day. In other words, it takes place on the 15th day of September.
The mid-autumn festival is such a big deal, and the celebrations are made possible each year by the fact that the Chinese people get to enjoy a 3-day public holiday. During the celebrations, there are many dinner gatherings, lighting of the red paper lanterns, the worship of the moon, and eating mooncakes, among other activities.
Mid-Autumn Festival History
The mid-autumn festival was started at least 3000 years ago, and it was started as a post-autumn harvest celebration devoted to honoring and thanking the gods for the harvest. According to most scholars, the festival started during the reign of the Song and Zhou Dynasties, and it was derived from the old tradition that involved worshipping the moon which was a big deal during Zhou Dynasty’s reign between 1046 and 256BC. The phrase mid-autumn also appeared first in an ancient book by Zhou Li, and at the time, the festival was known as the ceremony for the great winter and also a sacrifice for the Moon Goddess. It is believed that the Mid-Autumn festival started as worship of some celestial phenomena before it evolved into moon worship in the month of autumn in the ancient days. At the time, the Chinese emperors offered different sacrifices to the moon as a way of praying for a good harvest in the coming year. This was later taken on by the Chinese officials and nobles before civilians picked on it.
Note that the term Mid-Autumn appeared first in classic Confucian books like the classic known as the Rites of the Zhou originated from the Han Dynasty’s time. This book also highlights the many rituals for the Zhou Dynasty. However, it wasn’t until the Tang Dynasty ruled China between 618 and 907 that the Moon Festival was made the official festival.
The Moon Festival was, however, a customary practice that is believed to have guided and shaped Tang Dynasty’s rule between 618 and 907BC. The festival gained a higher degree of popularity after the reign of the Song Dynasty between 960 and 1279, and it is now the second biggest popular throughout China. During Song Dynasty’s reign, the date for the festival was fixed for the 15th of the 8th month. At this time, the festival’s significance wasn’t much about the harvest but had more to do with the seasons and time.
During Tang Dynasty’s reign, however, the festival grew more popular and became a custom practice that would eventually shape the reign of the dynasty. At the time, it was customary to admire the moon during the festival, which is why there are many poems have been written about the moon the time. The ‘romanticization’ of the moon is why the festival is also considered a very romantic one.
The phrase ‘moon cake’ appeared at the time of the Southern Song Dynasty between 1127 and 1279. And between 1368 and 1644, during the reign of the Ming Dynasty, and even before, the only thing that people ate during the festival was the moon cakes. Its popularity grew during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, and the Mid-Autumn Festival became the second-biggest custom festival.
Even as the festival became custom, it was only in 2008 that the Moon Festival was made a 3-day public holiday during which families would enjoy short trips.
When is the Mid-Autumn Festival?
In 2022, the Mid-Autumn Festival will be on the 10th of September, with a public holiday for the Chinese people between the 10th and 12th of September.
Note, as mentioned above, that the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is celebrated as a form of worship for the moon in celebration of a good harvest, takes place on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month in the Chinese calendar.
How To Celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival
As mentioned above, the mid-autumn festival is a big deal for the Chinese people, and they celebrate it in a big way. In these celebrations, the following things stand out about the festival and the Mid-Autumn celebrations.
- Large Family Reunions
One of the biggest things that stands out about the Mid-Autumn festival is the fact that the celebrations are centered around large family celebrations and reunions. This is believed to have to do with the roundness of the moon and the fact that its roundness is a representation of family and the reunions of Chinese families. And to celebrate this, the families host dinners together often on the festival’s evening.
Thanks to the 3-day state of the public holiday for these reunions, even working families have more than enough time for reunions. This also applies to individuals that live too far, way away from their parents and also friends.
- Eating Mooncakes
This is the other thing that stands out about the Mid-Autumn Festival, and the main reason for this is that the mooncakes are a symbolic type of food thanks to the food’s rounded shape and sweet flavors. The shape of the cake is also symbolic of the family members gathering around the table to cut and enjoy the cake and share its sweetness.
Today, Chinese mooncakes are not only rounded, but they could also be animal or heart-shaped, in multiple flavors and attractive décor.
- Appreciation for the moon
The full moon, as mentioned above, symbolizes family reunions in all Chinese cultures, and during the festivals, the moon shines the brightest, and it is also the most beautiful. To appreciate the moon and its beauty, the Chinese people will set a table outside the house where they will sit to appreciate the moon and enjoy the taste of the mooncakes. During the reunions, parents also tell their little kids about the legend of the Chang’e and his flying to the moon. They’d also make a game out of it in which the kids would try their best to determine and draw the moon’s shape.
- The worship of the moon
The Chinese people also worship the moon during the festival. And legend has it that there is a fair maiden called Chang’e that lives in the moon with a rabbit, and on the night of the festival, families enjoy dinner under the moonlight. Others believe that in worshipping the moon, Chang’e or the moon goddess will fulfill their hearts’ desires.
Mid-Autumn Festival Food
In addition to the mooncakes, the other foods that are popular during the festival include pomelos, taro, lotus root, pumpkin, and duck, among others.
Mid-Autumn Festival Traditions
The main traditions observed during the festival include
- Appreciating and worship of the moon
- Eating mooncakes
- Large family reunions
- Making and lighting red and other bold-colored lanterns. This is a favorite activity by and for the children. The lanterns are in different shapes, but most of them resemble flowers, plants, and animals. The lanterns are then hung from trees and on houses, creating some of the most beautiful scenes. They also write good wishes on the lanterns for good harvest, good health, happy marriage, love, and success in education.
Why Celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival?
The festival is celebrated to honor the moon and appreciate its beauty and also pray for a good harvest in the coming year.
Why Lanterns On Mid-Autumn Festival?
The lanterns are symbolic of important beacons that help to light up people’s lives and paths, leading them to good fortune and to prosperity.
Why Rabbit In Mid-Autumn Festival?
The rabbit is an important part of the festival because the jade rabbit was one of the main characters in the famous Chinese tales involving 3 immortals that were moved by the sacrifice made by the rabbit, deciding to make the rabbit immortal as a result, sending the rabbit to live in the moon palace alongside the moon goddess, Chang’e.
Why Eat Mooncakes On Mid-Autumn Festival?
Well, mooncakes are the symbol of family reunions, and they complement the festival’s harvest moon on the night of the festival. They also eat mooncakes to express best wishes and love for their loved ones.
Mid-Autumn Festival Story
According to legend, the festival is associated with the moon goddess Chang’e. In the tale from many years ago, the earth had 10 suns, and the heat from the suns ravaged the earth into the worst possible drought. And at the Emperor of Heaven’s request, a great archer known as Hou Yi was able to shoot down 9 out of the 10 suns, saving life on earth. As a reward, the archer was chosen to be king, and he also possessed the elixir of life, which his wife, Chang’e, stole and drank. Chang’e ascended, and Hou Yi’s archery led her to the moon, where she became the moon goddess. On the day of the festival, Hou Yi gets to visit Chang’e on the moon, who is accompanied by the jade rabbit.