Every country has special traditions for family reunions. In China, the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival, is a holiday where families gather to worship the moon, celebrate the harvest, and spend time with one another. Celebrated annually on August 15 of the lunar calendar, this year the date falls on September 21.
The tale of the holiday originates from long ago when the Earth had ten suns, which ravaged the world with an awful drought. Not wanting to see the people suffer, an archer named Hou Yi decided to shoot down the suns, leaving one to rise and set around the same time each day. Grateful for his help, the gods gave him two elixirs of immortality. Eating one elixir would grant him eternal life, while consuming both elixirs will transform him into a god. Not wanting to eat the elixirs, Hou Yi brought it home for his beautiful wife Chang’e to keep.
One of Hou Yi’s students soon found out about the elixirs of eternal life. He waited until Hou Yi wasn’t at home and bursted through the door, pointing a sword at Chang’e, demanding the elixirs. Refusing to let the greedy student obtain immortality, Chang’e ate both elixirs, ascending into the sky. She soon became the moon goddess, famous for being exquisite and having a jade rabbit. Yearning for his wife, Hou Yi looked up at the moon and saw Chang’e’s figure. He soon created a delicacy called mooncakes, which are round to represent a full moon, and the intricate pattern on the dessert depicts Chang’e’s graceful figure.
Since then, the Mid-Autumn Festival has been a holiday where people celebrate the harvest. People would give their offerings and appreciation to Hou Yi for shooting down the suns and the fall harvest as well as Chang’e for being the guardian and goddess of the moon. The full moon is also viewed as a symbol of fertility in Chinese culture, because it is seen as a pregnant woman. Therefore, many Chinese women would pray to the moon when it is at its brightest and fullest. On this holiday people also eat various delicacies and spend time with family.
The festival is associated with moon appreciation, as the moon is believed to be the roundest and brightest during this period. It also symbolizes reunions, since the circular shape portrays endless cycles of friendship and family. Families would also buy or make colorful red lanterns. One type of lantern, which stays on the ground, is used for children to carry when they stroll in their neighborhoods, gardens, or parks at night. These are usually red, for red is viewed as the lucky color in China. People also write their wishes or gratitude on a second type of lantern, which is released into the sky. These lanterns are generally white or light yellow, as they show the ink best and allow the candles in the floating lanterns to light up the dark atmosphere like glowing lights.
In Chinese culture, roundness represents completeness and reunions, which is why mooncakes are an essential part of the festival. To express love and best wishes during the Moon Festival, people eat mooncakes with family or friends. The fillings in a mooncake can include lotus seed paste with or without salted egg yolks, different types of nuts, red bean paste, and dried fruit. Although mooncakes are a popular delicacy, they’re especially sweet and don’t hold much nutrition. For instance, salted egg yolks contain a large amount of cholesterol and sodium. Even though mooncakes may seem small, they are high in calories. A lotus seed paste mooncake is around 720 calories or more, while one with egg yolk can go up to 830 calories. Other traditional foods include but are not limited to: taro, roast duck, wine with osmanthus flowers, hairy crabs, and fried noodles.
Most of these foods – roast duck, fried noodles, taro, and crabs – can also be found throughout the year. However, mooncakes are only in the stores during the Mid-Autumn Festival. They’re usually on sale starting from September or even late August, and by the time the holiday passes, customers have bought all of them. In Edgemont, you can find mooncakes in Asian stores like HMart or Golden Village. If you’re lucky, you’ll still be able to find some of the well-sought food in the stores!