The Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节 : zhōng qiū jié) is one of the two most important holidays in the Chinese calendar, the other being the Chinese Spring Festival (The Chinese New Year). This is because both of these festivals symbolize a time for family members and loved ones to get together to celebrate the festive season.
There’s a Chinese saying during Mid-Autumn Festival “月圆人团圆” (yuè yuān rén tuán yuán) that emphasizes on this. Directly translated as “Round (full) Moon, People Reunite (or come together)”. In Chinese tradition and literature, a round full moon which symbolizes completeness, is associated with family reunion.
The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th Lunar month every year, which in 2009 is on the 3rd of October. On this day, you will find the moon exceptionally bright and round. In China and among Chinese communities overseas, family members get together and people congregate to celebrate this festival in a variety of ways. For the Origin and Legends associated with this festival, read our upcoming article.
Traditionally, the festival is celebrated with family members and friends gathering outdoor or in backyards, to admire the bright Mid-Autumn moon. Mooncakes (月饼 : yuè bǐng) are savoured together with Chinese tea and lanterns are lit for decoration and also carried around by kids. Modern celebrations may involve outdoor barbeques and local communities may set up activities and for the public to immerse in the festive atmosphere.
Mooncake, the traditional food for this festival, is still very popular with Chinese people. It is a round (or sometimes rectangular) pastry, with lotus seed paste for its filling covered with a thin and soft golden baked crust.
Many creative varieties of mooncakes have since become available. Snow-skinned mooncakes use a translucent and soft skin as compared to the traditional baked crust. These mooncakes are chilled and are sweeter and less oily. You will be able to find all sorts of mooncake filling flavours, like red bean, green tea, durian, custard cream, chocolate and even ice-cream!
The best way to savour the traditional mooncakes is to accompany them with Chinese Wulong tea as the mooncakes are slightly oily. Chinese tea also aids digestion as well as help bring out the finer flavour of the mooncakes. For the sweeter alternative mooncake flavours, floral tea is preferred. Under the beautiful full moon, with mooncakes, tea and good company, your celebration of the mid-autumn festival is perfect.
Different Celebrated Forms
In different parts of China, people have different ways to celebrate the Mid Autumn Festival.
In East China’s Zhejiang Province, it is a must for the locals to watch the flood tide of the Qian-tang River as part of the festive celebration. It has also become a visiting attraction for the tourists. The ebb and flow of the tides coincide with the waxing and waning of the moon, creating particularly huge tides in the mid-autumn day. The outh of Qiantang River is bugled-shaped, hence as the flood tide plunges in through the narrow mouth, impressive waves are created. Along the river bank, spectators are able to observe the roaring waves, which at its peak, rises as high as three and a half metres.
In South China, Guangzhou, a large lantern show is held, where thousands of different shaped and coloured lanterns are lit, as if vying to outshine the bright moonlight.
In some of the towns and villages in South China, people engage in the tradition of ‘tower burning’ (烧塔 : shāo tǎ). The tower structure is built with bricks and tiles while wood and bamboo are places inside and burnt in Mid Autumn evening. It is traditionally believed that burning these towers can bring good luck for their life and their harvest. The brighter and stronger the fire is, the better.
In Hong Kong, the Fire Dragon Dance (舞火龍 : wǔ huǒ lóng) is a rich traditional activity which is still held annually every Mid-autumn Festival since more than a hundred years ago. The Fire Dragon Dance is held for 3 days (on the 14th, 15th and 16th of the Lunar 8th Month). The dance involves performers controlling a dragon head, a 32 segmented dragon body and a tail, measuring a total of approximately 70 metres long. Incense sticks are stuck all over the dragon and the dragon dances to loud beats of Chinese drums.
After the dance, the incense sticks are taken home by the performers and spectators for worshipping at home. The origin behind the famous Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance is a legend dating back to the 1880s. Read it in our next article.
Different provinces have different food traditions for this festival too. For example, other than mooncakes, in Nanjing, each family must have stew salt-preserved duck during mid-autumn celebrations. The white meat of the Nanjing stew salt-preserved duck is tender and fat but not greasy. In Sichuan, they also celebrate with other varied sweet pastries.
For the young generations, well-wishes and festive greetings are popularly sent to friends and family members through phone calls and short phone messages. Here are some of the Mid-Autumn Festive well-wishes we would like to share with you.
méi yǒu nǐ zài wǒ shēn biān, tiān shàng yuè yuán yuán, wǒ de xīn què kōng luò luò
Without you though the moon is round, my heart is empty.
yuè bǐng yǐ chī, tián mì yōu cún
The moon cake is eaten, but the sweetness remains.
jīn wǎn hé nǐ zài yuè guāng zhōng sàn bù shì wǒ zuì dà de mèng xiǎng
To walk under the moonlight with you tonight is my best dream.
zài zhè tuán jù de rì zǐ lǐ zuò nǐ quán jiā jié rì kuài lè
Wish you and your family a happy holiday on this gathering day.
– The Origin and Legends of Mid-Autumn Festival
中秋节 : zhōng qiū jié Mid-Autumn Festival
月: yuè Moon
团圆: tuán yuán Reunion
月饼 : yuè bǐng Moon cake
舞: wǔ Dance
火龍 : huǒ lóng Fire Dragon
节日快乐: jié rì kuài lè Happy Holidays