The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, on the first full moon night of the 8th month on the lunar calendar, is celebrated by Chinese people all around the world. The Mid-Autumn Festival takes place at the time of the autumn equinox, when the moon is supposedly at its fullest and roundest, and many of the traditional festivities center around admiration of the moon and eating foods that resemble the moon.
Traditional Chinese Mooncakes
Chinese mooncakes are small pastries about the size of a human palm that consist of a cookie-like crust and various fillings, ranging from lotus seed paste to red and green bean paste. Traditional mooncakes usually have a bright orange salted duck egg enclosed in the filling, which symbolizes the moon. Mooncakes are very rich and heavy, so each mooncake is usually cut into 4 wedges and shared. The traditional way to enjoy mooncakes is to sit with family and friends, and to eat the mooncake while admiring the moon.
Modern mooncakes have also made an appearance – many of these use fruit fillings instead of the traditional fillings, and others replace the traditional crust with glutinous rice crusts (known as mochi). There are also frozen mooncakes that are made with ice cream, as well as jelly mooncakes.
Mid-Autumn Festival Chinese Traditions
Food items that look like the moon are popular at the Mid-Autumn Festival, including the pomelo – a large sweet grapefruit that is in season in the fall. Other seasonal fruits that are popular include persimmons and pomegranates.
Many people celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival by lighting paper lanterns, which they carry on the end of a stick, or by lighting sky lanterns, paper balloons that float into the sky with the buoyancy provided by the hot lantern lit under them. Dragon dances are also popular performances at this time, and many people wear traditional Chinese clothing.
Mid-Autumn Festival Chinese Legends
Many of the stories surrounding the Mid-Autumn Festival center around the story of Chang’e, the lady who, according to legend, lives on the moon along with her companion, the Jade Rabbit. Chang’e was purportedly the wife of a famous hunter, whose search for eternal life finally yielded a single pill of immortality. Chang’e accidentally swallowed the pill and became an immortal, floating up to the moon and leaving her husband behind on earth. Many Chinese people burn incense to the Moon Goddess, and her image is often featured on boxes of mooncakes.