Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mid-Autumn Festival

 Traditional moon cakes

Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Harvest Festival or the Moon Festival, is one of the most popular Chinese Festivals.

It falls on the 15th day of the 8th month in Chinese lunar calendar. Since the new moon day is the first day of a Chinese Lunar Month, the Mid-Autumn Festival coincides with the full moon. In 2010 the Festival is celebrated on September 23. 

According to a folk legend, this is also the birthday of the earth god T'u-ti Kung.

In the traditional China this festival indicated the end of hard work in the fields with only the harvest left to attend to. People used this opportunity to express their gratitude to heaven, which was symbolized by the full moon, and earth symbolized by the earth god,  for the blessings they have enjoyed during the year past.
The Chinese were praying to the moon god for protection, good fortune and unity in the family.

Moon cakes were, and still are, exchanged as gifts and eaten on this festival. They symbolize the unity and closeness in the family. 

Pomelos that look like a full moon, are also eaten on this day. The Chinese word for "pomelo" yu, is homophonous with the word for "protection". The word play expresses the hope that the moon goddess will provide the protection they need.

Moon gazing is another essential part of this festival. On this day, the moon is at its roundest and brightest.  

To celebrate the light, homes and streets are decorated with lanterns of all shapes and sizes. The lanterns are also carried in processions.

Mid-Autumn Festival is also a time for lovers to tryst and pray for togetherness and unity which is symbolized by the perfect roundness of the moon.

Unlike most Chinese festivals, the Mid-Autumn Festival is a family holiday, characterized by peace and elegance, contemplation of nature and poetry writing.

The moon cakes giving tradition

Moon cakes have always played a central role in the Mid-Autumn Festival tradition. Once, according to a Chinese legend, moon cakes helped bring about a revolution. 
It was during the Yuan dynasty (AD 1280-1368), which was established by the invading Mongol tribes from the north. The Mongols subjugated the Han Chinese and expanded their rule over the vast territories of the Middle Kingdom.

According to Chinese folklore, a Han Chinese rebel leader named Liu Fu Tong, who wanted to bring an end to the oppressive rule of the Yuan dynasty, devised a scheme to arouse the Han Chinese to a rebellion against the Mongols . He sought permission from Mongolian leaders to give gifts to friends as a symbolic gesture to honor the longevity of the Mongolian emperor. Delicious moon cakes seemed to be a wonderfully auspicious gift for the occasion. 

The sweet pastry was a perfect way to circulate subversive messages. The Han Chinese were to begin their rebellion on the fifteenth night of the eighth month. The message was written on a piece of paper that was inserted into the cakes.

Avoiding suspicion of any kind, Liu was able to deliver this important message to his people who secretly prepared the rebellion to overthrow the Yuan dynasty and put an end the humiliating rule of the Mongols. 

Like in the past, moon cakes make a wonderful gift today. They are either filled with red bean paste or a lotus seed paste, with seeds and nuts, and often have one or two egg yolks within to celebrate the beauty of the perfectly round mid-autumn moon.

Wishing everyone a very happy full moon gazing -

Dominique Allmon