China’s Mid-Autumn Festival/Mooncake Festival/中秋节 is upon us again! I am very fond of all Chinese celebrations, and although Chinese New Year remains my all-time favorite, I must say that the Mid Autumn Festival still ranks quite high on my list. In China, we celebrated the Mid Autumn Festival every year. It’s a very warm time. It’s not as easy to celebrate now that we are no longer there, but we still do. It brings us back into the Chinese setting, which I believe we all miss quite a bit.
There are several variations of the Mid Autumn Festival stories, but the one I know best (and have often been taught) is the story of Chang E and Hou Yi. If I am recalling correctly, the story goes something like this:
One day, ten suns appeared in the sky, and this caused difficulties, as harvests were dying and the people were growing hungry. Hou Yi was a very good archer, so he shot down nine of those suns. The people were very thankful for this, and Hou Yi was given an elixir that would turn him into an immortal. However, Hou Yi knew that this meant he could not be with his beloved wife, Chang E, so instead of ingesting it, he hid it away. One of his apprentices found out about this elixir, and broke into his home one night to steal it. Chang E was at home when he attempted to do this. She refused to let him do this, so she swallowed to elixir. Following this, she flew to the moon, so she could be near her husband. When Hou Yi found out she had flown to the sky, he displayed fruits and flowers outside his home for his wife. Every year since then, on the same day that Chang E flew to the moon, people put offerings outside.
In addition to displaying offerings, people today will also watch dragon and lion dances, and carry lanterns. Although I’ve never seen people do this, I’ve heard they also put riddles in lanterns and have people guess the answer. Of course, probably, the most well known activity of the Mid-Autumn Festival is the mooncake making.
Mooncakes (月饼) can be made in a variety of ways, have different shapes, and contain an assortment of flavors. The most popular flavor is by far red bean – the classic. It’s not my personal favorite, but it’s what many eat. The filling can also be sweet beans, white lotus seed, salted yolks, and some more contemporary fillings have emerged as well, such as pineapple, durian, or sago. Pandan is the filling that I prefer of them all though. There are also others flavors specific to regions in China. Mooncakes also have different consistencies, depending on what you like and where they are coming from. They can be chewy, tender, or more crispy. Although most mooncakes you see are crusty and baked, some are not. This year, I made glutinous rice snowskin mooncakes, which are the no-cook mooncakes (but some people will even make them with gelatin or agar). Regardless of the kind of mooncake you get, they truly are a tasty treat! (alliteration there 🙂 )
There’s a lot more that you can learn about this important festival, should you wish to do so. I really recommend learning more about it, and if you get the chance to experience it, you definitely should!