Text and photos by Lau Sook Mei
There is much more to the Mid-Autumn Festival than moon cakes and lanterns. It is a major festival celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. This year it falls on 22nd Sept in the Gregorian calendar. It marks the end of the summer harvesting season that coincides with the autumn equinox when the moon appears to be fullest, brightest and the most beautiful. Fruits, vegetables and grains are abundant and it is time for relaxation, celebration and merry-making. Family members from far and wide gather for a reunion dinner.
Traditionally, the moon cake is a must-have. Like the moon, its round shape symbolizes unity and harmony. It is a baked pastry with a variety of sweet filling: seeds and nuts, lotus seed paste, red bean paste and others. Tucked in the centre of the cake is a golden, salted egg yolk (duck egg). Moon cakes are complemented by pomeloes, baby taros and the water caltrop, a kind of water chestnut which looks like black buffalo horns.
What is the significance of the iconic moon cake? The origin of moon cake goes back to the 14th century Yuan Dynasty when China was ruled by the Mongols. As public gatherings were forbidden, the Han Chinese could not harness the community in its attempt to overthrow the Mongols. A plan was hatched: thousands of moon cakes would be distributed – hidden inside were the time and place of the uprising. That night, the 15th day of the 8th month the Hans drove the Mongols out of China .
On this night, family members and friends would gather in the garden at home. Some people would make offerings to the gods, mainly food mentioned above, which would later be consumed. Apart from the festive specials, Children are happy for they get to play with lanterns and candles, the highlight of the evening. Chinese the world over observe this “tasty” tradition as they admire the beauty of the gorgeous moon.
Many lengends and folklores surrounding the Mid-Autumn Festival are strongly associated to Chang’e, the Moon Goddess. One goes like this:
Long, long ago, ten suns burnt the earth. Crops failed, and many people died. Along came Hou Yi the archer who shot down nine of them and saved the earth. He was rewarded with the pill of immortality. Soon after, he met the beautiful Chang’e; they fell in love and got married. But Hou Yi turned into a tyrant, well-despised. To stop the eternal sufferings of the people, Chang’e took the pill of immortality and drifted up to the moon. To this day, she remains the Moon Goddess, keeping company with her jade rabbit.
This mid-autumn night, look at the moon; you may be lucky to see them on the surface.
Bathed in the silvery moonlight, here’s a poem for you by Li Qiao:
The Mid-Autumn Moon
A full moon hangs high in the chilly sky,
All say it’s the same everywhere, round and bright.
But how can one be sure that thousands of li away
Wind and perhaps rain may not be marring the night?
Here’s another interesting story regarding the Mid-Autumn Festival – the “lang-ting-tang men”. Any idea who they are?
Please go to the link to get to the bottom of it.