The Mid-Autumn Festival has always been a huge holiday in China. In fact it is the second most important holiday behind Chinese New Year. On the 5th day of the 8th lunar month with the arrival of autumn and appearance of the full moon, this festival originally celebrates gratitude for good crops and harvest, explaining its importance to the large farmer population in China.
“Legend has it that Hou Yi, the powerful hero who shot down nine of ten suns, received an elixir that has the power to send him to heaven and transform him into a god. He secretly gave the elixir to his kind-hearted wife, Chang E, for safe keeping, unaware that Peng Meng saw it. Once Hou Yi went out hunting, Peng Meng rushed to Chang E and demand she hand it over. Refusing to hand it over yet knowing she wouldn’t win, she swallowed the elixir and immediately flew up into the sky. It was her love for her husband, however, that drew her towards the Moon, the nearest place to Earth. Devastated by what happened to his wife, he offered her favourite food on the altar as a sacrifice . After hearing that Chang E became a goddess, folk people have since offered sacrifices to Chang E to pray for peace and good luck”
The festive atmosphere starts as early as one-month prior with lanterns decorating the streets, vendors in markets selling moon cakes and families beginning to prepare for gatherings. However, decorations aren’t a common sight on the streets now; only certain areas hang lanterns or red banners with yellow Chinese characters saying “庆祝中秋”(Celebrating Mid-Autumn).
In addition to lanterns on the street, occasional street performances can be seen featuring the vivacious dancing dragon, the rhythmic drumbeats and loud golden clash cymbals.
During the days leading up to the festival, moon cakes are the most popular item in a supermarket (and often the most common gift my dad received from his colleagues).
Traditional moon cakes consist of a soft pastry with a chewy, flaky or tender crust, chewy, flaky or tender, enveloping a type of filling inside.
- On the top: an imprint on the crust with Chinese characters meaning “longevity” or “reunion”, designed with additional fancy prints around the characters.
- Inside the moon cake:
- various fillings, but lotus seed paste (with or without egg yolk)
- red bean paste
- jujube (dates) paste
- five kernels (walnuts, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, peanuts, sesame seeds, or almonds) held by maltose syrup have remained as the four classics.
Today, a wide range of exotic options exist such as fruit, ice cream and even seafood fillings!
My fondest memories are of my dad coming home with boxes of moon cakes in which my family and I would indulge in (my favourite were, and still are, red bean, egg yolk and pork fillings).
Moon cakes have always been a staple of the Mid-Autumn Festival and eaten to experience this holiday in the traditional style. .
Of course, there are more to just moon cakes on this special occasion.
The most important aspect of the Mid-Autumn Festival is family, cousins, uncles and every family member unite at the same place, same time to celebrate in their own fashion. Families that are more into tradition might light incense to pray to the gods before heading outside to sit on wooden stools and chatter under the goddess Chang E living on the round, silver moon. Families of the new generation like mine look forward to preparing a big celebratory feast at home or finding a nice restaurant to enjoy.
Fireworks and lanterns light up the skies while large light figurines of dragons or lotuses float on small bodies of water. Families go out together to appreciate the scenery, yet still others choose to stay at home on the couch and watch the Mid-Autumn Festival Gala while eating sunflower seeds. Some may find the gala a bore, but it’s one of those traditions that complete the festival in a way.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of Chinese holidays, seeing the banana that I am, but the Mid-Autumn Festival has got to be one of my favourites. As I grew up, my celebratory traditions have changed, but one tradition remains the same: family gathering.
My family might not be in Sydney with me to celebrate, nor are my senses able to pick up any of the usual Mid-Autumn festiveness in China but I have my new family of friends to eat moon cakes and attend the Cabramatta Moon Festival to feel at home with.