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Mid-Autumn or Mooncake Festival

Updated: 20 Aug 2007
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The Festival This Year: 
  
The Mid-Autumn Festival or Mooncake Festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, usually in October in Gregorian calendar. In 2007 the mid-autumn festival falls on 25th of September.
 
Mid-Autumn Festival: 
  
On the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, with a full moon overhead, the Chinese celebrate the harvest by retreating to country to enjoy mooncakes, pomoloes, and tea with their families. This celebration is known as the Mid-Autumn Festival. This is a time for family reunions. When a great distance or other circumstance separates family members or lovers, the Chinese say that they can still share the same moon on the same night. The moon has been central to Chinese life for centuries. Chinese calendars, many legends, and some of China's greatest poets are closely associated with the moon. The chinese believe the moon to be it's brightest on this day.
 
Festival History:
 
The festival has a long history. In ancient China, emperors followed the rite of offering sacrifices to the sun in spring and to the moon in autumn. Historical books of the Zhou Dynasty had had the word "Mid-Autumn". Later aristocrats and literary figures helped expand the ceremony to common people. They enjoyed the full, bright moon on that day, worshipped it and expressed their thoughts and feelings under it. By the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Mid-Autumn Festival had been fixed, which became even grander in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). In the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, it grew to be a major festival of China.
 
Mid-Autumn Festival and Mooncake
 
Besides the significance of  Mid-Autumn Festival in Chinese history, mooncakes play an important role in family gatherings and gift giving. These palm-sized round cakes symbolize family unity and perfection. Some mooncakes have a golden yellow egg yoke in the center which looks like a bright moon. They usually come in a box of four and are packaged in tin boxes with traditional Chinese motifs. 
 
History of the Moon Cake:
 
In 1280 AD, the Mongolians destroyed the Song Dynasty and controlled China during the Yuan Dynasty (1280AD -1368 AD). Under Mongolian rule, Chinese people were oppressed, persecuted and treated like slaves. Finally, the Chinese had enough and planned a revolution to be held during the August Moon Festival in 1368.
 
Because Mongolians don't eat mooncakes, the Chinese planned to overthrow the Mongolians by sending secret messages in mooncakes. Chinese bakers were told to send mooncakes to all Chinese households with the message to execute all Mongolians after the August Moon family gathering. Chinese families were instructed to not to eat the mooncakes until the 15th of the 8th lunar moon.
 
Chang E and Mid-Autumn Festival:
 
While Westerners may talk about the "man in the moon", the Chinese talk about the "woman on the moon". The story of Chang E, and her flight to the moon, is familiar to every Chinese, and a favourite subject of poets. Unlike many lunar deities in other cultures who personify the moon, Chang'e only lives on the moon.
 
Part of the reason for Mid-Autumn Festival becoming an eminent festival is the many myths and stories associated with it. The most well known one among them is the story of Fairy Chang E drifting to the Moon.
 
Tradition places Hou Yi and Chang'e to be around 2170 BC.  Folklore about the origin of the festival originated from Chang'e, the wife of Hou Yi.
 
According to this legendary story, there were 10 suns blazing in the sky in the remote ancient times. It was said that the sunlight set on the earth like burning fire and the mountain and fields were simply burned open. People living on the earth could find nowhere to run away. Then, there came the brave and highly skilled archer Hou Yi, who shot down nine of the suns and only the present one was left. Hou Yi got the people off the disaster and his great deeds won him the position of the King. However, Hou Yi eventually turned into a tyrant indulging in debauchery and random killing. His subjects hated him to the bone. Anticipating not a long lasting good time, Hou Yi went to the Queen of Wang Mu on the Kun Lun Mountain asking for the never-die elixir. In fear of his ever lasting life remained the suffering of the people, His wife Chang E took the elixir and swallowed it up herself. After that, her body became as light as the cloud and began flying into the midair. It happened just at the evening of the 15th day of the eighth lunar month with the bright and lovely moon hung above in the sky. 
 
When people heard of the story that Chang E had turned into a celestial being, they arranged the incense table in the moonlight one after another and prayed kindhearted Chang E for good fortune and peace. From then on the custom of worshiping the moon spread among the people.
 
Mid-Autumn Celebration today
 
People in different places follow various customs, but all show their love and longing for a better life. Today people will enjoy the full moon and eat moon cakes on that day.
 
The moon looks extremely round, big and bright on the 15th day of each lunar month. People selected the August 15 to celebrate because it is a season when crops and fruits are all ripe and weather pleasant. On the Mid-Autumn Festival, all family members or friends meet outside, putting food on tables and looking up at the sky while talking about life. How splendid a moment it is
 
SOURCE: China.org.cn

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