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Falling on the 15th day of the 8th month according to the Chinese lunar calendar, the Mid-Autumn Festival is the second grandest festival for the Chinese, after the Chinese New Year.
It takes its name from the fact that it is always celebrated in the middle of autumn. The day is also known as the Moon Festival, as at that time of the year, the moon is at its roundest and brightest.
The Mid-Autumn Festival has a history of over 3,000 years. It was derived from the custom of moon worship during the Shang Dynasty (c.1600–1046 BC).
Mid-Autumn was first celebrated as a festival during the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127). Like the emperors, ancient people believed worshiping the moon and eating together around a table would bring them good luck and happiness.
Chinese emperors worshiped the sun and moon every year, to pray for a good harvest, since the earliest recorded times. They believed the sun and moon are in charge of the universe.
Nowadays, Chinese people celebrate the Mid-Autumn festival with many traditional and meaningful activities, such as eating dinner with family, hanging lanterns, guessing lantern riddles, and worshiping the moon.
In Malaysia, there are mooncake displays and stalls in shopping malls to celebrate the occasion; there are also advertisements about mooncakes in the newspapers and on the television. Together, they create a festive atmosphere and show the warm reception people have towards the festival.
While there have always been different variations of moon cakes, including some savory ones, the classic sweet pastry most closely associated with the festival has been made the same way for centuries: salty egg yolks stuffed in paste made from lotus seeds or beans. The market is much more diverse these days, not least since mooncakes now come in all shapes and sizes. The inception of frozen moon cakes within the past three decades also helps.
A mooncake is a traditional Chinese pastry. It is made from wheat flour and sweet stuffing, such as sugar and lotus seed paste. It is a symbol of family reunion, and the cake is traditionally cut into pieces that equal the number of people in the family.
Savouring mooncakes is the most common tradition associated with the day. On other ordinary days, people won’t buy or eat mooncakes but during the Mid-Autumn Festival everyone will have a mooncake to celebrate.
Appreciating the Moon
In Chinese beliefs, the full moon is the symbol for a family reunion. Many famous ancient poets wrote poems about the moon and expressed their homesickness. When they looked at the moon, it reminded them of their families and homeland. Chinese family members have dinner together in the evening of the Mid-Autumn Festival. After dinner, they may talk about their work, the children, and their future plans.
As the Mid-Autumn Festival represents the reunion of families, families will have dinner together on that night. Those who don’t stay with their parents will try their best to go home to at least have dinner together. Therefore, there can be traffic jams during this festival.
In the past, mothers would cook delicious food at home and families would spend a happy time together. Nowadays, most families tend to have dinner at a restaurant rather than cook at home. Therefore, famous restaurants can be fully booked on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Making colorful lanterns is a happy activity between families and children. The lanterns have different shapes and can also resemble animals, plants, or flowers. Children love making colorful lanterns in different shapes to be hung in trees or houses, or floated on rivers. Parks will also hang up colorful lanterns, which provide a beautiful view at night.
Traditional handmade lanterns are made of paper and inset with candles. More luxurious models might have a rattan or wooden frame, covered with paper. Some could also be painted with festive images like Chang’e and the rabbit. These days, though, such traditional lanterns have become a rarity, replaced by inflated bulb-lit plastic lanterns depicting cartoon characters of the season which are the fad among kids. So too are glow sticks.