Mid-Autumn Festival — Practices

The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, usually in October in the Gregorian calendar, but this year it’s on September 15th. What’s the story behind it? Well, the emperors in ancient China offered sacrifices to the sun in Spring and to the moon in Autumn. Of course there is plenty of folklore surrounding this festival and the story of Hou Yi and Chang E is not the only myth surrounding this festival.

Some people say that the story has to do with the day the “Man in the Moon” carried a writing tablet into a tavern. The people there asked what he was writing and he answered that he was recording the names of all the happy couples whose fate it would be to marry and live happily ever after – one reason why so many Chinese weddings are held during the 8th lunar month.

Then, there is the story from history:  When the Chinese overthrew their Mongol oppressors in 1368 CE, they felt that moon cakes, something the Mongols did not eat, would be a perfect hiding place for secret messages and instructions relating to the rebellion. Then, on the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Chinese families ate all the moon cakes, thus destroying all the evidence! (One wonders if this is the origin of “fortune cookies” (a treat unknown in China but dearly loved in Chinese restaurants all over the US) and their secret messages…)

Nowadays, people celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival arrange altars and pray to the kindhearted Chang E for peace and good fortune.

Of course, China is a vast country and different regions have different customs, but what is common to all is that they must show their love and longing for a better life, and they will invariably enjoy moon cakes in honor of the gentle Chang E. Giving baskets of fruit as gifts is another hallmark of this time of the year.

The moon is full on the 15th day of each lunar month. The Chinese originally selected the 8th lunar month, because it is a season when the crops and fruits are all ripe – a sort of harvest festival – and they can usually count on pleasant weather. This is important because the Mid-Autumn Festival is traditionally celebrated outdoors with the family gathered around a sumptuously laden table, admiring the full moon.

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