5 Things To Know About The Mid-Autumn Festival 2020
The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, when the moon is at its fullest: this year on October 1. Worshipping the moon stems from the Chinese legend of Chang’e, a woman who stole her husband’s immortality elixir. As she became as light as air, she flew to the moon, leaving behind the heartbroken Houyi, who would leave his wife’s favourite snacks and fruits in their garden and look at the moon. The tale spawned a number of festival customs dating back to as early as the Zhou Dynasty (1046 to 256 BC) that are still practised today.
Woman In The Moon
The moon is exceptionally round and bright on this day, and some believe Chang’e herself is the reason. The Song dynasty poet Su Shi compared the changing shapes of the moon to the ebb and flow of relationships. As families appreciate the moon together, or think of one another while looking at the moon at different corners of the world simultaneously, Mid-Autumn is a special occasion to celebrate unity and harmony.
Throwing A Fruity Feast
The evening is traditionally sweetened with fruit. In the past, there were strict customs about what fruit to eat and where to place it on the table. Having watermelon, apples, pears, dates and grapes was essential. Nowadays, it doesn’t matter—as long as everyone gets to share.
As well as for lighting up the dark while looking for a good moon-gazing spot, lanterns are also lit to ask for the blessing of the moon goddess to bring the family a son in some areas of China. In Hong Kong, this is more of a fun custom than a sincere prayer for an heir. A few weeks before the festival, paper lanterns in the shape of hares, starfruit and fish start popping up in shops, particularly in Sai Ying Pun. Why the hare? It refers to the fabled jade hare, who was said to keep the lonely Chang’e company on the moon.
Dragons became associated with the festival when, in 1880, a plague tore through Tai Hang village in Hong Kong. Village elders were said to have been instructed by Buddha to make a giant dragon with hay and insert lit joss sticks along its body to drive away evil spirits. The villagers followed the advice and danced throughout the village before and after Mid-Autumn Festival, drumming as they went. Miraculously, the plague was lifted. Since then, Tai Hang villagers have continued with this tradition. It’s probably safest to stay away from crowds this year, so you’ll have to settle for making paper dragons at home, lest history repeat itself.
See also: 6 Traditional Villages To Visit In Hong Kong
More Than Just Mooncakes
Mooncakes aren’t the only festive food. In certain areas of Guangdong, people also eat taro, a root vegetable, because its Chinese name “yu tou” sounds similar to “hu tou”, a phrase that evokes a Mongolian invasion in 1279 during the Song dynasty. Coincidentally, mid-autumn is when the tubers are harvested, making it a perfectly seasonal food. Then, in the late Yuan dynasty, paper slips with messages of a revolution against the “hu” rulers were hidden inside mooncakes. Now, Fujian locals scoop out the core of mooncakes for older relatives to eat, which symbolises how secrets are not to be leaked out to younger generations.
See also: This Year's Most Creative Mooncakes Are Filled With Caviar, Truffle, and Abalone
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