The festival dates back to moon-worship in the Chinese Shang Dynasty. It is also celebrated in the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore as the Mooncake Festival or the Lantern Festival.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th day of the 8th month on the Chinese lunar calendar, which is the time that the moon is the roundest and fullest, and corresponding to September or early October. It parallels the autumnal equinox of the solar calendar when day and night are equally long.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is a major holiday on the Chinese calendar which includes Chinese New Year and Winter Solstice. It is often a legal holiday in several countries and a time that farmers celebrate the end of the harvest.
On this day, family members will usually gather together to admire the harvest moon and eat mooncakes and pomellos.
A collection of fruits might be placed on an altar in the courtyard and would include such things as: apples, pears, peaches, grapes, pomegranates, melons, oranges and pomellos,moon cakes, cooked taro, and edible snails from the taro or rice patches.
Mooncakes, which are about 3 inches in diameter and 1-1/2 inches thick, resemble somewhat western fruitcake or plum pudding in taste and consistency, but the contents include: nuts, mashed red beans, lotus-seed paste or Chinese dates, wrapped in a pastry, sometimes with a cooked egg yolk at the center. Today there are many varieties of mooncakes available at the time of the festival. Traditionally 13 mooncakes are arranged in a pyramid to represent thirteen moons of a year.
Chang’e, the Chinese Moon Goddess
Chang’e, also known as Chang’O or Chang’Ngo, is a prominent part of the Mid-Autumn Festival as she is the Chinese Moon Goddess. In Chinese mythology from the 3rd century B.C.E., Chang’e is described as a goddess who chose to reside on the moon.
The legend tells of the archer, Hou-Yi, who was sent down to the earth during a terrible time of burning heat from ten suns and horrible drought. Hou-Yi shot down nine of the scorching suns. It began to rain again and fresh water filled the rivers, and the grass and trees turned green again.
One day Chang’e and Hou-Yi meet when Chang’e is returning from a stream with a bamboo container of water. Hou-Yi asks for a drink of water. Chang’e recognizes him as their savior in making the earth green again and also plucks a beautiful flower for him. He in return gives her the fur of a lovely silver fox. They fall in love and are married.
Hou-Yi searches for an elixir for eternal life for himself and Chang’e so that they can live together happily forever. One day he is killed by a wicked man known as Feng Meng who has heard about their plan to live forever. When Feng Meng tries to force Chang’e to give him the elixir she recognizes that Feng Meng has killed her husband and quickly swallows all of the elixir. Suddenly Chang’e feels herself pulled toward the Heavens.
Chang’e decides to make the Moon her home as it is the closest to the earth and the place of her slain husband, and the home of the good people that she loves. There on the Moon Chang’e lives a contented life.
There are other versions of this legend. Chang’e can be considered the “woman on the moon” just as in the West there is a “man on the moon,” both of which are fictional characters whose outlines can be traced in the appearance of the colors of the moon. In Chinese mythology, there is also a character known as Jade Rabbit who lives on the moon and makes herbal medicine. His outline can be traced at the top of the moon.