I was not so happy when we didn’t have Labour Day off, but I’m pretty happy that we have tomorrow off because today is the Mid-Autumn Festival. I like that they give you the day after the festival off so you can recover from all the partying! Even Google is celebrating.
As far as I can tell whether you call it the Zhonqiu or Mid-Autumn Festival, it is really about two things: mooncakes and lanterns. Under the bright harvest moon augmented with lantern light, families get together to celebrate and eat moon cakes and pomelos together.
My lovely friend Wendy (who went to Notre Dame with me and whom I connected with soley through Facebook or I would never have known she lived here!) and her fiance Alex nicely brought us over some mooncakes and fruit in honor of the festival. They are so sweet and so helpful in educating us about the local culture.
The cakes are meant to ressemble the moon and as such they have the bright duck egg yolk in them. They are honestly the richest and most dense thing I have ever eaten in my life. There is no way you could finish one on your own. The filling is made from lotus seed paste and is very sweet in a bean paste type way. They are meant to be cut into thin slices and shared with tea, which makes sense when you have a bite of one!There is a folk tale about mooncakes being used to conceal secret messages (they certainly are dense enough to hide a letter in!) during the Ming revolution, which overthrew the Yuan dynasty.
Here are the reasons for the festival:
- There is a full moon tonight, the sixteenth day of the eighth moon to be specific in the Chinese calendar.
- Farmers are celebrating the end of the summer harvest.
- Legend says that the holiday also celebrates Houyi and Chang’e, the moon goddess of imortality.
The story about Houyi and Chang’e, the moon goddess, is actually quite sweet. My summary of the Wikipedia version is this: Back in the day there were actually ten suns circling the earth. One day they encircled the earth and caused the Earth to burn. The Emperor of China commanded Houyi to use his archery skills to shoot down all but one sun. In return for this great favor, the Emperor gave him a pill that would give him eternal life, but he advised him to wait to take the pill for a full year so he could pray and fast to prepare for this great gift. So he hid the pill under a rafter in his house, but unfortunately his wife Chang’e found the pill and took it. After she took it , she realized she could fly. When her husband returned home he yelled at her for taking the pill and to escape his anger she flew to the moon and coughed up the pill so she was unable to return to Earth. Houyi commanded a hare to pound herbs to make another pill so she could fly back, but it hasn’t worked so far as he is still pounding away. Houyi built himself a sun palace where he now lives, but once a month he visits his wife on the moon, which is why on the fifteenth night the moon is very full and beautiful.
People put up lanterns everywhere for the festival. They hang them in their communal courtyards, or in front of their door, if you are lucky enough to have a front door like our neighbors.
Tonight the lanterns will be everywhere!
Hong Kong Hustle did a nice post about going to the beach to enjoy the moon and lanterns. Here are a couple pics from their post about celebrating on Repulse Bay Beach, which is about 20 minutes from our apartment.