“Mid-Autumn festival: Why Asia goes mad for mooncakes”
The pastries, about the size of a palm and filled with a sweet paste, are popular gifts during the ancient festival. Taipei, Taiwan – As autumn approaches in many parts of Asia, that means one thing: boxes and boxes of mooncakes. The small pastries are synonymous with the Mid-Autumn Festival and are handed out in colorful boxes to friends and colleagues. It is not uncommon to see boxes stacked around offices at this time of year or long queues outside popular bakeries. Brands from Starbucks to luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton and the five-star Shangri-La hotel chain sell their own versions of the traditional gift, with some costing as much as $100 for a box of four. A few years ago, China even ordered officials to stop handing out mooncakes as part of a crackdown on corruption. Lots of time and effort goes into making, buying and sharing mooncakes.
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“Mid-Autumn Festival: A Celebration of Harvest and Family”
The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival or Zhongqiu Festival, is one of the most important traditional Chinese festivals. Celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month in the lunar calendar, usually falling in September or early October in the Gregorian calendar, this festival is a time for family gatherings, delicious mooncakes, and the admiration of the full moon. But beyond its colorful lanterns and delectable treats, the Mid-Autumn Festival has a rich history and cultural significance that spans over a thousand years.
Origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival
The Mid-Autumn Festival traces its roots back to ancient China and has a myriad of legends and historical events associated with its origin. While there are various stories, the most popular one centers around Chang’e, the Moon Goddess.
1. Chang’e and Houyi:
The legend of Chang’e and Houyi is one of the most well-known tales associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival. According to folklore, there were once ten suns in the sky, causing scorching heat and hardship for the people. Houyi, a skilled archer, was commissioned by the Jade Emperor to shoot down nine of the suns, saving the Earth from disaster. As a reward, Houyi was given an elixir of immortality. However, he was reluctant to consume it and instead entrusted it to his wife, Chang’e. While Houyi was away, a wicked man tried to steal the elixir from Chang’e. To protect it, she consumed the elixir herself, and as a result, she ascended to the moon, becoming the Moon Goddess. To honor her, people began offering sacrifices and celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival.
2. Historical Harvest Celebration:
Another theory suggests that the Mid-Autumn Festival has agricultural origins, celebrating the autumn harvest. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), the festival became an official event, with imperial gatherings to enjoy the moon and harvest offerings. Over time, it transformed into a more widespread celebration, incorporating elements of the Chang’e legend.
3. Rebel Uprising:
The Mid-Autumn Festival also played a significant role during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 AD). The people of China used mooncakes as a means of communication and rebellion against Mongol rule. Secret messages were hidden within mooncakes, which were distributed among the population, helping to coordinate a revolt that eventually led to the overthrow of the Yuan Dynasty.
Today, the Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated across China and among Chinese communities worldwide. It has evolved into a joyous occasion that brings families together. The key elements of the modern celebration include:
Mooncakes are the quintessential treat associated with the festival. These round pastries are often filled with sweet or savory fillings like lotus seed paste, red bean paste, egg yolks, or nuts. They come in various sizes and intricate designs, often symbolizing unity and completeness.
Lighting lanterns is another cherished tradition during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Colorful lanterns are hung both indoors and outdoors, creating a magical ambiance. Traditional lanterns come in various shapes, such as animals, flowers, and even legendary figures.
3. Family Reunions:
Like many other Chinese festivals, the Mid-Autumn Festival emphasizes the importance of family. It’s a time when family members come together to share a meal, exchange gifts, and enjoy the moon’s beauty. Watching the full moon is considered particularly auspicious, as it symbolizes unity and togetherness.
4. Cultural Performances:
Cultural performances, such as dragon and lion dances, traditional music, and martial arts demonstrations, are common during the festival. These activities add vibrancy to the celebrations and highlight the rich cultural heritage of China.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is more than just a date on the lunar calendar; it’s a celebration of Chinese culture, history, and the values of unity and family. With its origins in ancient legends and historical events, the festival continues to thrive as a beloved tradition that brings people together to enjoy the bounties of the harvest and the beauty of the full moon. Whether you’re savoring a mooncake, admiring lanterns, or simply spending quality time with loved ones, the Mid-Autumn Festival is a time to cherish and appreciate the richness of Chinese heritage.