Mid Autumn Festival – Mooncake Festival – Lantern Festival
According to the Chinese Lunar Calendar, the 15th day of the eighth month represents the Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhong Qiu Jie) also known as Lantern Festival (Yuanxiao) or Mooncake Festival.
At this time, the moon is closest to the earth and hence it’s at its brightest. It also marks the end of the Hungry Ghosts Festival, which occurs during the seventh month of the Lunar year.
This day is considered auspicious, as the Moon Goddess, supposedly offers conjugal bliss and so it’s common that many people have their weddings around this time.
The festival itself is said to have come into existence due to the celebration after the Autumn Harvest. The celebrations were a part of thanking the gods. Praying to the moon also became popular. This culture probably commenced over 2000 years ago and the festival was made popular during the Song Dynasty and the reign of Emperor Tai Tsung.
There are interesting LEGENDS associated with the festival as well.
The Legend of Hou Yi and Chang-E
An ace archer named Hou Yi, saved the earth from burning to ashes, when he shot the nine suns that originally circled the earth. He was rewarded with the Elixir of life but he became so tyrannical that his wife, Chang-E, stole the Elixir from him and drank it herself. Chang-E found thereby ascended to the moon and thereafter was known as the Moon Goddess. Hou Yi on the other hand was given a cake by the Queen Mother of the Western Paradise (Xi Wangmu). He could withstand soaring temperatures upon eating the cake and was sent to remain in the sun. With a special exempt, he was able to visit his wife Chang-E on the 15th of every month. This is why the moon’s brightness on this day is at its highest.
The Legend of Rabbit on the moon
Buddha disguised himself as a hungry, old man in search of food. He approached three animals; a fox, a monkey and a rabbit, for help. The fox caught a fish for him, the monkey brought some fruits but the rabbit sacrificed its own body as meat by throwing itself into the fire. In gratitude, Buddha resurrected the rabbit and sent it to the moon which was the highest honor.
The Legend of the Overthrow of the Mongols
Mooncakes had a significant role in the liberation of Yuan China (1206 – 1341 AD) from the oppressive Mongols during the 14th century. Despite a prohibition against large gatherings, Zhu Yuan Zhang was able to instigate a rebellion by placing secret messages in mooncakes. This rebellion took place during the Mid-Autumn Festival and so came into existence the eating of mooncakes and the celebration of the festival.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated by the illumination of lanterns. Many homes are illuminated with lanterns and feasts. This is held in conjunction with the worship of the God of Heaven. The month itself is popular for family gatherings with Moon viewing parties ‘Shang Yue’, and the tradition of Lantern Carrying ‘Tam Tang’.
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! 中秋快乐!