China has many holidays dating back to ancient times. One of the most famous Chinese holidays is the Mid-Autumn Festival, a celebration of the autumn harvest. Families and friends will gather together to give thanks for the harvest and pray for good fortune.
Celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, the Mid-Autumn Festival has been celebrated since the Shang Dynasty (1600—1046 BCE), but gained further popularity during the early Tang Dynasty (618—907 CE).
The Mid-Autumn Festival is also called the Moon Festival, because an important part of the festival is the celebration of the moon. The moon is at its roundest and brightest on the 15th of the each lunar month, symbolizing unity in Chinese culture.
The origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival goes back to an old legend. In ancient China, there was beautiful woman named Chang'e who married an excellent archer named Hou Yi. One year 10 suns rose in the sky, causing all the plants and people on earth to die. Hou Yi took his arrows and shot down 9 of the suns, and as a reward the Queen of Heaven gave Hou Yi a magical elixir that would make whoever drank it immortal. Hou Yi loved Chang'e and didn’t want to leave her, so he just kept elixir at home with no plan to drink it.
One day when Hou Yi was away his student, Pang Meng, tried to take the elixir for herself. To stop Pang Meng, Chang'e drank the elixir and immediately flew up into the sky. Her love for her husband Hou Yi was so strong that she was taken to the moon, the closest place to Earth in the Heavens. Hou Yi was filled with grief and in her memory began to worship the moon and offer sacrifices. Since then, Chinese people have continued worshiping the moon.
On the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival, families will come together to celebrate in many different ways. Most people will have the day off from work and school, and they will have a special meal together, burn incense and give offerings, play games, and watch traditional Chinese dragon and lion dances.
It is a tradition to eat mooncakes, which are special Chinese cakes that come with many fillings such as egg yolk, various fruits, and meat. In the weeks leading up to the Mid-Autumn Festival you can buy mooncakes at most shops and supermarkets.
One of the most special parts of the festival is the tradition of writing a riddle on a lantern and having others guess the answer (called 灯谜 deng mi). People will carry these lanterns around, hang them outside, or release them into the sky.
In some parts of China there will be dances for single young men and women to meet each other. The women can throw a handkerchief into the crowd, and whoever catches and returns it will have a promising romantic future. Families might also have their sons and daughters join matchmaking events.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is a special time for people in China, and a fun festival to participate in! Try many flavors of mooncakes, light a lantern, and be sure to admire the full moon outside. To learn more about other Chinese holidays, read HERE.