by Elizabeth Reninger
The Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhongqiu Jie) is a traditional Chinese holiday and Taoist festival that is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, around the time of the autumn equinox. It has its roots in the Shang dynasty tradition of moon worship, and is held at a time of the year when moon is at its “fullest” — visually most large and bright.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is second only to Chinese New Year(Spring Festival) in terms of its importance. Other names for this festival include: Moon Festival; Mooncake Festival; Lantern Festival; Fifteenth Of The Eighth Moon; and Festival Of Reunion (since it is a time when family members often come together to celebrate). The Mid-Autumn Festival is a time when farmers celebrate the end of the summer harvesting season, and when family members gather to appreciate the beauty of the autumn moon.
Mid-Autumn Festival Mooncakes
One of the most common traditions associated with Zhongqiu Jie involves making and eating mooncakes: sweet round cakes, about three inches in diameter, which are similar to English fruitcakes or plum pudding. There are hundreds of varieties of mooncakes, but typically they have a filling of nuts, melon seeds, lotus-seed paste, Chinese dates, almonds, minced meats and/or orange peels.
This rich filling is held within a golden-brown pastry crust, and a cooked egg yolk is placed decoratively right in the center. The crust is often adorned with symbols associated with the Mid-Autumn festival. It’s traditional to pile thirteen mooncakes into a pyramid, symbolizing the thirteen moons of a complete lunar year. And of course the best place to eat the mooncakes is outside under the moon!
Other foods associated with the Mooncake Festival include cooked taro, water caltrope (a type of water chestnut), and edible snails (from the rice paddies or taro patches) cooked with sweet basil.
Other Mid-Autumn Festival activities include:
1. Creating an altar and burning incense in honor of Chang’e – the Chinese Goddess of the Moon – and other Taoist dieties. Altars honoring Chang’e are set up in the open air, facing the moon. New lotions bath salts, make-up and other “beauty aids” are placed on the altar for her to bless. (Chang’e endows those who worship her with great beauty.)
2. Carrying brightly lit lanterns, lighting lanterns on towers, or floating sky lanterns. Huge lantern shows are a part of some Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations.
3. Planting trees; collecting dandelion leaves for all of ones family members; and putting pomelo rinds on one’s head.
4. Performing or attending Fire Dragon Dances, or other performances in public parks or theatres.
5. Enjoying an elaborate family reunion dinner.