On Monday 24th September, China celebrates the Moon Festival. Also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, this is one of the biggest celebrations of the year for Chinese people, second only to Chinese New Year. This week, eSense Translations explores the meaning behind it and the celebrations that take place.
The Moon Festival always takes place on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar. It is a harvest festival and is recognised not only by people in China, but also many of the far eastern countries, including Vietnam, Japan, and Singapore.
The history of this festival dates back over 3,000 years, when the Ancient Chinese worshipped the moon, observing its relationship with the changes of the season and the agricultural production, and thanking it for this plentiful time. Much like the Western version of a harvest festival, the Moon festival is a time for celebration of the hard work that has enabled the produce.
During the Mid-Autumn Festival, the moon shines at its fullest and its shape at this time plays a big part in the symbolism during the festivities. Chinese people link the full moon to family reunion, happiness and harmony and this is reflected in their celebrations.
Typical of most cultural celebrations, the Moon Festival is a time for family and friends to gather together, feast and enjoy spending time with one another. China has a recognised public holiday for the Moon Festival, this year from 22nd-24th September, meaning that extended families can reunite. Often up to three generations can get together, normally congregating at the grandparents’ house.
At the feast, there are a number of typical dishes that are prepared; the most popular being Mooncake. Mooncake is a round, wheat pastry and is filled with a number of different delights from fruit, nuts, lotus seeds, red beans and egg. Other foods that are often enjoyed include pumpkin, duck, taro (a root vegetable) and pomelo (a large citrus fruit that tastes like a cross between an orange and lemon). Wine is also enjoyed alongside the celebrations. It is not coincidental that both the Mooncakes and much of the fruit and vegetables enjoyed at the feast are round. Often even the table people sit around is round too. This shape mirrors that of the full moon and continues the theme of happiness and reunion.
Chinese people may make sacrifices of fruit or Mooncakes to the moon in the quest for good luck. This will be done by placing Mooncakes, or any round fruit, on a small table decorated with candles and incense, outside facing the moon.
Fruits and Mooncakes are also popular gifts given to friends during this Mid-Autumn festival.
Other celebrations see colourful lanterns filling the sky, alongside the much wished for bright moon. Some of the best places to see such shows are Hong Kong and Zigong. Children also enjoy getting creative, making their own lanterns in the form of animals, plants or flowers and then hanging them in trees, outside houses or floating them down the rivers. This beautiful showcase of lantern celebrations are also often accompanied by Chinese dragon and lion dancers, enhancing the enjoyment and magical feel of the evening.
Unfortunately, as is the case with many traditional celebrations, a lot of these customs are now dying out. Modern families are increasingly more likely to go out for dinner, rather than cook a feast, the Mooncake sacrifices are something that is rarely seen in big towns or cities, held onto mainly by rural communities and the older generations, and the dominance of the big brands and advertising industry has seen the festival become a lot more commercialised, with shopping a big focus of the season.
If you are celebrating the Moon Festival, eSense Translations would like to wish you and your family a Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!
By Lorna Paice