The Chinese way of celebrating the Mid-autumn Festival (3 min read)

Every year the mid-autumn or the moon festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month on the lunar calendar which corresponding to September to October of the Gregorian calendar and is celebrated in China, Korea and Vietnam. In 2017 it occurred on the 4th of October.


Originally it was a festival to celebrate the completion of a successful harvest and in China, only started to gain popularity around the early Tang Dynasty (619-907 BCE). But the festival had appeared in the Zhou Dynasty as scripts from this period describe a festival that is similar to the Moon Festival.


However, in modern China, it is often believed to be linked to the love story between Chang’e and the legendary archer Hou Yi. There are several versions to this story:

  1. According to legend, one year 10 suns appeared in the world, which started to kill off all the crops and life from the heat they generated. To save the world and his fellow humans, Hou Yi shot down 9 of the suns and as a result of this feat, and the Queen Mother of the West (Xiwang mu), a deity gave him an elixir that would allow him to become immortal. However Hou Yi did not want to leave his wife alone so he did not drink the elixir. The news of this elixir reached the ears of his apprentice who tried to force Chang’e to give him the elixir on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar when her husband was out hunting one day. Because Chang’e did not want the elixir to fall into the wrong hands, she drank it and flew to the moon so that she could be as close to her husband as possible. When Hou Yi heard about this, he was extremely sad and designed mooncakes and his wife’s favorite foods and offer them as sacrifice for her.
  2. Another version claims that after Hou Yi shot down the 9 suns he became an evil, tyrannical king. so that he could live forever, he asked the Queen Mother of the West to give him an elixir for immortality. To save the people from his rule, Chang’e stole the elixir on the day of the Moon Festival and drank it. Hou Yi was so angry when he found out, he tried to kill his wife but she managed to escape to the moon where she became the spirit of the moon. Therefore the people offered sacrifices to commemorate her sacrifice.


One notable feature of the celebration is lanterns. Although the link between lanterns and the festival is not known however this could be because of influences from cultures in different parts of China and other festivals such as the Ghost Festival where lanterns are lit to guide the spirits of the drowned. Nevertheless, today, during the festival, people would carry brightly lit lanterns, or float sky lanterns (made out of paper with people’s wishes written on the outside with a candle attached to the inside so that it can float in the air, works a bit like a hot air balloon but on a much smaller scale).

Another notable feature is moon cakes. Today, there is a lot of variety of mooncakes, like jelly mooncakes, snow skin mooncakes, ice cream mooncakes as well as the traditional types which have a lotus seed paste or red bean paste with the traditional crust. Because it’s round, it symbolizes reunion and completeness and sharing and eating it with the family is supposed to symbolize completeness and union within the family.

Although, again its not clear when this custom began and how it is linked to the festival, however legend claims that it may be because a businessman from Turpan (a city in the west of China) wished to offer cakes to the Emperor Taizhong of the Tang Dynasty in his war against the tribes in the North (Mongolia) on the day of the Moon Festival. The Emperor apparently pointed tot he moon and said he wished to share this with all his people and that was how the mooncake giving/ eating custom began.

Has anyone ever celebrated the Moon festival? And was it different? Please comment below and let us know a bit about your culture 🙂


1 Comment

  1. Mid-Autumn festival is really really big in Hong Kong ( I am an expat there).
    Big flashy light displays and complete over the top mooncake commerce, unfortunately most of the mooncakes and all the excessive wrapping end up in the landfills. The festival itself is quite fun.
    Especially the parade of the fire dragon in Tai Hang and Pok fu lam is worth going to.

    Liked by 1 person

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