The Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节)
also called the Chinese Moon Festival, is one of the most important annual festivals for the Chinese people (in addition to the Spring Festival, aka Chinese New Year) and is an official holiday. Perhaps most importantly, it is a day for family reunion. This lively festival takes place on the 15th day of the 8th Chinese lunar month every year, so its exact date by the Western calendar is different every time. Full of joy and happiness, friends and loved ones gather to celebrate a time when the moon is at its fullest and brightest of the whole year, and everyone gathers together to delight in eating moon cakes and appreciating the spectacular beauty of the full moon.
The time-honored Mid-autumn festival boasts a history of thousands of years, which has gradually developed and formed. The ancient emperors used to worship and offer sacrifice to the moon in autumn. Afterwards, noblemen and scholars would admire and appreciate the bright the moon on Mid-autumn festival, expressing their thoughts and feelings.
Chinese Mid-autumn FestivaIn the Zhou Dynasty (1066 B.C.-221 B.C.), worshipping the moon on Mid-autumn festival was very popular. Below the moon, big incense burner tables were arranged, on which there were moon cakes, watermelons, apples, red dates, plums, grapes and many other sacrificial offerings. Moon cakes and watermelons were requisite. After the worship, the big round moon cake would be divided into several parts according to the number of family members.
In the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), appreciating the moon on Mid-autumn festival prevailed and people attached much importance to the worship of the moon. Mid-autumn festival began to become a permanent festival in the Tang Dynasty.
Mid-autumn Festival in Tang Dynasty
Mid-autumn festival became prosperous in the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.). In the northern Song Dynasty (960-1127 A.D.), on the night of the moon festival, all the people, both old and young, rich and poor, were all well dressed up and burnt incense, praying for the bless of the moon. In the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279 A.D.), people gave each other moon cakes as gifts in the symbol of reunion.
In the Ming (1368-1644 A.D.) and Qing Dynasties (1644-1911A.D.), the custom of Mid-autumn festival became even more prevailing, such as burning incense, releasing sky lanterns and watching fire dragon dance. In the Ming and Qing dynasties, Mid-autumn festival was as famous as the New Year’s Day and it was also one of the major festivals of China.
Customs of Mid-autumn Festival
Gazing at the Moon
Chinese Moon cakeGazing at the Moon is an ancient tradition from the Zhou Dynasty (around 500 BC) when people held ceremonies to welcome the full moon, with huge outdoor feasts of moon cakes, watermelons, apricots, apples, grapes and other fresh fruits. The popularity of this ancient tradition began to grow during the Tang and Song Dynasties when people of high rank held banquets in their big courtyards.
They drank fine wine, watched the moon and listened to music. Common people who could not afforded as big parties as the rich would lay some food such as moon cakes and fruits on a table in the courtyard and pray to the moon for a good harvest.
This underwent a great rise during the Song Dynasty, and historical documents tells about mid-autumn night in the capital, where people would stream to the night markets and together with their families admire the beauty of the full moon. There are also many classic songs and well-known verses about this tradition.
Eating Moon Cake
When watching the full moon, eating moon cakes is significant part in mid-autumn festival throughout China. Full moon in China is a symbol of family unity.
At the very beginning, the moon cakes were served as a sacrifice to the Moon. The words moon cake first appeared in the Southern Song Dynasty, even though, at that time, the moon cakes were not round.
Nowadays, moon cakes are given as presents to loved ones and it represent people’s wishes to be together during the mid-autumn festival. Apart from these two traditional customs, different regions have their own celebrations. Full moon in China is a symbol of family unity.
Chinese Ancient Poems and Mid-Autumn Festival
At the very beginning, the Mid-Autumn Festival was not so popular. It was the ancient Chinese poets who made the Festival popularity. They wrote many poems which are related to the moon and the festival, and when reading these poems people became more and more interested in it. Missing Home in the Silent Night by Li Bai is one of the most famous ancient poems related to the moon and the Mid-Autumn Festival.