August 15th, according to the lunar calendar is the traditional Mid-Autumn Festival in China. The festival is the second most important festival next to Spring Festival for Chinese people. Every year, when the festival comes, people go home from every corner of the world to meet their family and have dinner with them.
Why is Mid-Autumn Festival so important? It is related to the moon. In Chinese culture, the full moon is a symbol of peace and prosperity for the whole family. Its roundness symbolizes wholeness and togetherness. In the middle of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar the moon is full, and eight is also a popular number in Chinese culture, symbolizing wealth and prosperity. So people believe this day is very propitious.
The Best Season to Eat Crab
Do you know that it’s also the best time to eat crab? During this time of the year, female crabs have more eggs, so they’re said to be more nutritious. According to a Chinese idiom, the first person to eat crab is brave and intelligent. So in addition to moon cakes, enjoy some crabs during the festival.
The Celebration of Mid-Autumn Festival
Mid-Autumn Festival has a history of 2000 years. Chinese people have come up with many traditions in this time. Their celebrations show their happiness and excitement.
People in different parts of China celebrate the festival in different ways. In Chaozhou, Guangdong Province, people eat taro as the harvest occurs at the same time and in hopes the harvest is good in the next year. In Nanjing, people cook duck with sweet-scented osmanthus (flowering plant) because Nanjing people think sweet-scented osmanthus is a symbol of peace. In some places people make fires inside towers to celebrate the festival because they think the fire is a symbol of good business.
People celebrate by appreciating the moon, eating moon cakes together, and making Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival lanterns. These three traditions have been passed from generation to generation.
There are many beautiful legends about the festival. The most popular one tells how a goddess named Chang’e ascended to the moon.
A long, long time ago, a terrible drought plagued the earth. Ten suns burned fiercely in the sky like smoldering volcanoes. The trees and grass were scorched. The land was cracked and parched, and rivers ran dry. Many people died of hunger and thirst.
The King of Heaven sent Hou Yi down to the earth to help. When Hou Yi arrived, he took out his red bow and white arrows and shot down nine suns one after another. The weather immediately turned cooler. Heavy rains filled the rivers with fresh water, and the grass and trees turned green. Life had been restored and humanity was saved.
One day, a charming young woman, Chang’e made her way home from a stream, holding a bamboo container. A young man came forward, asking for a drink. When she saw the red bow and white arrows hanging from his belt, Chang’e realized that he was their savior, Hou Yi. Inviting him to drink, Chang’e plucked a beautiful flower and gave it to him as a token of respect. Hou Yi, in turn, selected a beautiful silver fox fur as his gift for her. This meeting kindled the spark of their love. And soon after that, they got married.
A mortal’s life is limited, of course. So in order to enjoy his happy life with Chang’e forever, Hou Yi decided to look for an elixir of life. He went to the Kunlun Mountains, where the Western Queen Mother lived.
Out of respect for the good deeds he had done, the Western Queen Mother rewarded Hou Yi with an elixir made from powdered fruit seeds that grew on the tree of eternity. At the same time, she told him,”If you and your wife share the elixir, you will both enjoy eternal life. But if only one of you takes it, only that one will ascend to Heaven and become immortal.”
Hou Yi returned home and told his wife all that had happened, and they decided to drink the elixir together on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, when the moon would be full and bright.
A wicked and merciless man named Feng Meng secretly heard about their plan. He wished Hou Yi an early death so that he could drink the elixir himeslf and become immortal. His opportunity finally arrived. One day when the full moon was rising, Hou Yi was on his way home from hunting, and Feng Meng killed him. The murderer then ran to Hou Yi’s home and forced Chang’e to give him the elixir. Without hesitating, Chang’e picked up the elixir and drank it all.
Overcome with grief, Chang’e rushed to her dead husband’s side, weeping bitterly. Soon the elixir began to have its effect, and Chang’e felt herself being lifted toward Heaven.
Chang’e decided to live on the moon because it was near to the earth. There she still lives a simple and contented life. Even though she is in Heaven, her heart remains in the world of mortals. Never does she forget the deep love she has for Hou Yi and the love she feels for the people who have shared their sadness and happiness.
Another legend explains the role of the old man on the moon, the Divine Matchmaker. Some Chinese people believe that marriages are made in Heaven but prepared on the moon. The old man on the moon tied the feet of young men and women with red cords for marriage. Thus a maiden made offerings and prayed to him during the Mid-Autumn Festival, hoping that some day she would ride in the red bridal sedan chair.
For generations, moon cakes have been made with sweet fillings of nuts, mashed red beans, lotus-seed paste or Chinese dates, wrapped in a pastry. Sometimes a cooked egg yolk can be found in the middle of the rich tasting dessert. People compare moon cakes to the plum pudding and fruit cakes which are served in the English holiday seasons.
Nowadays, there are hundreds of varieties of moon cakes on sale a month before the arrival of Moon Festival.
During the Yuan Dynasty (A.D. 1280-1368) China was ruled by the Mongolian people. Leaders from the preceding Sung Dynasty (A.D. 960-1280) were unhappy at submitting to the foreign rule and sought a way to rebel without being discovered. The leaders of the rebellion, knowing that the Moon Festival was drawing near, ordered special cakes to be made. Baked into each moon cake was a message with the outline of the attack. On the night of the Moon Festival, the rebels successfully attacked and overthrew the government. Today, moon cakes are eaten to commemorate this legend.
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