Mid-Autumn Festival is a harvest festival, celebrated in China. The festival takes places on month 8 day 15 of the Chinese calendar.
In 2017 it’s on October 4th.
It is the second most important festival in China after Chinese New Year. To the Chinese, the festival means family reunion and peace.The early form of the Mid-Autumn Festival was derived from the custom of moon worship during the Zhou Dynasty over 3,000 years ago.
In ancient China, most emperors worshiped the moon annually. Then the custom was accepted by the masses and became more and more popular over time.
Mid-Autumn Festival History
Sacrificing to the Moon First Recorded in the Zhou Dynasty (1045–221 BC) moon worshipSome Chinese still put out offerings for the moon goddess.
Ancient Chinese emperors worshiped the harvest moon in autumn, as they believed that the practice would bring them a plentiful harvest the following year.
The custom of offering sacrifices to the moon originated from worshiping the moon goddess, and it was recorded that kings offered sacrifices to the moon in fall during the Western Zhou Dynasty (1045–770 BC).
The term “Mid-Autumn” first appeared in the book Rites of Zhou (周礼), written in the Warring States Period (475–221 BC). But at that time the term was only related to the time and season; the festival didn’t exist at that point.
Appreciating the Moon Was Popularized in the Tang Dynasty (618–907)
Appreciating the Moon Appreciating the moon with family during the Mid-Autumn Festival has been popular in China for hundreds of years.
In the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD), appreciating the moon became popular among the upper class.
Following the emperors, rich merchants and officials held big parties in their courts. They drank and appreciated the bright moon. Music and dances were also indispensable. The common citizens just prayed to the moon for a good harvest.
Later in the Tang Dynasty, not just the rich merchants and officials, but also the common citizens, began appreciating the moon together.
Mid-Autumn Became a Festival in the Song Dynasty (960–1279)
In the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD), the 15th day of the 8th lunar month was established as the “Mid-Autumn Festival”. From then on, sacrificing to the moon was very popular, and has become a custom ever since.
Eating Mooncakes Started in the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368) MooncakesMooncakes are the most important food of the Mid-Autumn Festival in China.
The tradition of eating mooncakes during the festival began in the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368), a dynasty ruled by the Mongols.
Messages to rebel against the Mongols were passed around in mooncakes.
Mid-Autumn Festival Gained Top Priority in the Last Two Dynasties
During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD) and the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912 AD), the Mid-Autumn Festival was as popular as Chinese New Year.
People promoted many different activities to celebrate it, such as burning pagodas and performing the fire dragon dance.
Mid-Autumn Became a Statutory Holiday from 2008
Nowadays, many traditional activities are disappearing from Mid-Autumn festivities, but new trends have been generated.
Most workers and students regard it simply as a public holiday to escape work and school. People go out traveling with families or friends, or watch the Mid-Autumn Festival Gala on TV at night.
The Top 3 Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival Stories
The Mid-Autumn Festival is the traditional moon worshiping festival in China. Most of the festival’s customs are related to the moon, as are the popular stories explaining the festival’s origin below.
Chang’e Flying to the Moon
The most famous Mid-Autumn Festival story is Chang’e flying to the moon. The story goes like this…
Long, long ago, there were ten suns in the sky. The suns burnt all the plants and people were dying on Earth, until one day excellent archer Hou Yi used his bow and arrows to shoot down nine of the suns. Earth was saved, and people flocked to learn archery from Hou Yi.
The Western Queen Mother gave Hou Yi a bottle of elixir that could make one person immortal. Although Hou Yi did want to become immortal, he wanted to stay with his wife Chang’e more. Therefore, he just kept it at home.
Pang Meng, one of his students, tried to seize the elixir when Hou Yi wasn’t at home. Faced with greedy Pang Meng, Chang’e decided to drink the elixir. It made her fly to the moon where she would stay forever.
To remember her and pray to her, Hou Yi and others started to worship the moon with many offerings.
Chang’e’s image usually appears on Mid-Autumn Festival pictures. Children in China are told that Chang’e is still living on the moon. And on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, when the moon is bright, children try their best to find the shape of Chang’e on the moon.
Wu Gang Chopping the Cherry Bay
The second story is also set on the moon. The story goes like this…
Wu Gang the woodman wanted immortality, but he didn’t try hard enough to learn the necessary magic.
The Emperor of Heaven got angry with him because of his attitude. In order to punish him, the Emperor of Heaven planted a huge cherry bay tree, 1,665 meters (about a mile) high, on the moon and toldWu Gang that if he could cut it down, he could become immortal.
Wu Gang thought this was his chance to try hard at something he was good at to gain immortality. However, the Emperor of Heaven had made it so that the cherry bay healed every time Wu Gang chopped it!
Today, people still believe an obvious shadow on the moon is made by the huge cherry bay.
The Jade Rabbit
The jade rabbit is the main character in the third famous Chinese Mid-Autumn story. Chinese children are told that the jade rabbit is on the moon with Chang’e. Here’s the story…
Once upon a time, there were three animals living in a forest: a fox, a rabbit, and a monkey.
Three immortals, pretending to be beggars, went through the forest asking for food. The fox and the monkey quickly offered them food.
The rabbit, who was less resourceful but very pious, felt guilty. She said, “I’m so sorry I couldn’t offer any food to help you, but I can give myself,” and jumped into the fire.
The three immortals were moved by the rabbit’s sacrifice, and decided make the rabbit an immortal, sending her to live in the Moon Palace.
Mid-Autumn Festival Food 7 Popular Dishes
In China, food for the Mid-Autumn Festival emphasizes the season’s harvest, such as pumpkin, taro, hairy crabs, and auspicious round foods including mooncakes.
Chinese people believe seasonal food is the most delicious and the healthiest, so seasonal delicacies are favored for the Mid-Autumn Festival. Food with a round shape, meaning unity and togetherness, such as a mooncakes, usually represents good wishes and happiness.
1. Mooncake — the Must-Eat Food
Mooncake is the most popular and important food eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Various types of mooncakes are placed in the most prominent places in stores and markets as the festival approaches.
Mooncakes are traditionally Chinese pastries consisting of a thin, tender skin enveloping a sweet, dense filling. Mooncakes used to be made at home, but very few people make them at home nowadays.
The traditional fillings include lotus seed paste, sweet bean paste, and egg yolk; however, mooncakes with modern flavors, such as ice cream and chocolate, have appeared in recent years.
Read more about Chinese Mooncakes — Flavors, Recipes, Symbols
2. Duck — Different Cooking Methods
Duck is the second most common food after mooncakes in the Mid-Autumn Festival. Chinese people believe that eating duck in autumn can expel pathogenic heat from their body to keep the balance between yin and yang.
Different regions in China have different methods for cooking duck. The most ordinary dish is fried duck with tender ginger. There are also many other popular dishes for specific regions. Osmanthus duck is a must-eat food in East China’s Jiangsu Province, while in West China’s Sichuan Province, people enjoy smoke-baked duck.
3. Pumpkins — to Bring Good Health
People living to the south of the Yangtze River have the tradition of eating pumpkin during the Mid-Autumn Festival because it’s the mature season for pumpkins. Chinese people believe that seasonal food is the freshest.
Eating pumpkin on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival is believed to bring people good health due to a pumpkin’s round shape and golden appearance.
4. River Snails — to Brighten Your Eyes
For Cantonese people, river snails are an indispensable food during the Mid-Autumn Festival. It’s the best time for eating river snails. Eating river snails is believed to help brighten the eyes.
River snails are usually cooked with medicinal herbs to dispel their unpleasant odor.
5. Taro — to Bring Good Luck
Taro usually ripens around the time of the Mid-Autumn Festival. People love its fresh and soft texture. One of the most popular taro dishes in China is deep-fried sugared taro. The taro is cut into small pieces and deep-fried, then covered in syrup. It’s always a popular dish for people with a sweet tooth.
Eating taro during the Mid-Autumn Festival is believed to dispel bad luck and bring good luck and wealth. The tradition began during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912).
6. Wine Fermented with Osmanthus Flowers — for a Happy Life
Drinking wine fermented with osmanthus flowers has a long history in China. Chinese people began to drink this type of wine over 2,000 years ago. This wine may be preferred because the Mid-Autumn Festival is held when the osmanthus flowers are in full bloom. Drinking the wine signifies family reunions and a happy life.
7. Hairy Crab — a Seasonal Festival Delicacy
Eating hairy crab has become a popular delicacy for the Mid-Autumn Festival in recent years. In September and October, hairy crabs are at their best, being richest in protein and amino acids.
The custom of eating hairy crabs originated from Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, which have numerous rivers and lakes. Now the custom prevails throughout southern China.