The moon may be one of the greatest inspirations for mankind but none celebrates its shifting spell and luminous fullness like the East Asian communities.

Dancing lights from a throng of colourful lanterns and multiform mooncake offerings enhance the cultural soiree for the Chinese and Vietnamese people.

Photo from Adobe Stock

When

The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th of the 8th month in the lunar calendar. It is a time where the moon’s orbit is closest to the earth and would appear in its fullest and brightest form. This year it falls on 13 September 2019.

History

Mid-Autumn Festival is also recognised as the Moon Festival; the ancient Chinese believe that the moon’s circulation is related to harvest time. As the moon changes, so does the season. Prayers for the moon are held for blessing the harvest of the people. 

Ingredients for mooncake. Photo from Adobe Stock

Myth

The selfless gesture of Chang’e started the practice of moon worship. According to Lihui Yang’s “Handbook of Chinese Mythology” version of the myth, hero Hou Yi is awarded with the elixir of immortality for his braveness.

The existence of such elixir attracted evil eyes so to protect her husband’s elixir from falling into the wrong hands, Chang’e drank it and flew to the moon. Now, she is known as the lunar deity. 

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Celebration

Today, Mid-Autumn Festival is a family reunion besides thanksgiving to the moon. The festival is celebrated in various ways across different cultures but the main hallmarks of the celebration are still mooncake eating and lighting lanterns. 

Mooncake is a symbolic pastry of the festival; the round-shaped mooncake signifies reunion and the coming together of a family. On the days leading up to the festival, the gifting of mooncakes is common between family and friends as a thoughtful custom that implies unity and remembrance. 

Mooncakes are mostly store-bought and shared on the night of reunion whereas elderly in some families still prefer to practice the tradition of making mooncakes at home.

Photo from Adobe Stock

The sweet round pastries have a thin crust and stuffed with a dense filling commonly made from red bean or lotus seed paste. Needless to say, the most popular mooncake has the yolk of a salted duck egg in the middle–resembling the full moon.

To each their own style, mooncake differs across different regions and countries but over time, mooncake flavours have diversified from its traditional golden crust to “snow skin mooncake” and exotic fillings such as durian and cream cheese, thanks to the booming mooncake industry.

Colourful traditional lanterns at Saigon, Vietnam. Photo from Adobe Stock

The joyous night is further illuminated with lanterns. For a night, children get to fetch their own lanterns and participate in a lantern parade around the vicinity.

Lit using candles, paper lantern with fan folding is a traditional craft for the festival–one that is slowly replaced with modern electrical battery-powered lanterns for safety purposes.

The significance of the lantern perhaps serves a more practical purpose for the festival, for lighting the path and scenery for a reunion to appreciate the beauty of the moon when dusk falls. 

Text by Jessy Wong

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