China’s Mid Autumn Festival
Mid Autumn Festival Introduction
The 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar is China’s Mid-Autumn Festival (ä¸ç§‹èŠ‚) – it is so named because it falls in the middle of autumn. This year, that’s today.
The moon is roundest and brightest at this time, and one look at the round, full moon on Mid Autumn Festival and people across all of China immediately want to sit down and eat with their closest family and friends, miss their hometowns, and get deluged by memories. Because of the tendency to sit around a round table with family and friends, Mid Autumn Festival is also called å›¢åœ†èŠ‚ (Roughly ‘Gathering Holiday’). And there is no denying that Mid Autumn festival is one of the most important traditional Chinese holidays.
History of Mid Autumn Festival
In ancient times on Mid-Autumn Festival, people would pay respect to various spirits from the moon (usually Chang E as described in one of the myths below), laying out a large table with incense, moon cakes, watermelon, dates, apples, grapes, and other offerings. Moon cakes and watermelon were the most important – not providing them was quite a serious offense.
Under the light of the moon, the family would light red candles, make offerings to spirits of the moon, and tell them their wishes and desires, hoping that the moon spirits would make them come true.
Mid Autumn Festival in Today’s China
The offerings and prayers of the past are not prevalent as they once were during Mid-Autumn festival, but it is still the norm to get together, eat a large meal with family and friends, soak in the light of the moon, and wish family far and near happiness and health.
My girlfriend, who helped me prepare this article, has memories of every family laying out a feast in their dining or guest areas, with the men drinking alcohol, eating, talking and enjoying looking at the moon – and women and children sitting under the moon, eating ç“œå (similar to sunflower seeds) and telling myths and stories about Mid-Autumn festival.
Mid Autumn Festival Myths and Origins
Mid Autumn Festival, like other traditional holidays in China, has taken shape gradually over the ages. Numerous myths surrounding Mid-Autumn festival still endlessly flow between family and friends, including such stories as Chang E flying to the moon, Wu Gang cutting down the mystical tree, Chang E’s magical rabbit losing the divine medicine, and more. Here is the most common one for you to enjoy:
Chang E (å«¦å¨¥ï¼‰Flies to the Moon
In the earliest days the sky had 10 suns, which burned all the crops to dust. With the people hanging on the edge of death, a hero named Hou Yi (åŽç¾¿), strong and sensitive to the suffering of the people, climbed up to the peak of Kun Lun (æ˜†ä»‘)Mountain.
From there, he focused all of his strength, drew his divine bow, and shot down nine of the suns all at once. The last remaining sun he left, forced to rise and fall according to the schedule he set – a schedule meant to bring good fortune and abundance to all of the people.
Hou Yi, admired and loved everywhere, took a beautiful and kind woman named Chang E as his bride. Except for mentoring others in the ways of hunting, Hou Yi spent all of his time with Chang E. Everyone admired this loving and beautiful couple.
After his heroic feat, people came from far and wide to study under Hou Yi. Unfortunately, an evil man named Feng Meng (è“¬è’™) snuck in with them.
One day, when Hou Yi went to see a friend in Kun Lun Mountain, he ran into the empress of heaven, who gave him a medicine that would make anyone divine. But Hou Yi was not willing to leave his wonderful wife, so he gave it to Chang E for safekeeping. Chang E put it into a hidden jewelry box, but little did she know that Feng Meng was watching from outside.
Three days later, Hou Yi brought his apprentices hunting, yet the heartless Feng Meng pretended to be sick so that he could stay behind. Waiting until Hou Yi had left, Feng Meng confronted Chang E and forced her to give him the medicine. Chang E knew that she could not fight with Feng Meng, so she immediately ran to her jewelry box, took out the divine medicine, and in a flash, drank it all. Instantaneously, Chang E flew out the window toward heaven. But since she couldn’t bear to be so far from her husband, Chang E resisted the pull to heaven and landed on the moon instead.
In the afternoon, Hou Yi returned. Chang E’s maid sobbingly told the story of what had befallen his wife. Filled with rage, Hou Yi rushed out to kill Feng Meng, but was quickly overcome with grief, and began to call out his wife’s name toward the cold, dark sky.
Only then did he discover that the moon was especially bright that night, and on it swayed a shadow that was exactly the shape of Chang E. Hou Yi ran with all of his might toward the moon, but with every three steps forward, the moon fell back three. Three steps backward, and the moon also moved three steps forward. He couldn’t get to the moon.
With no other choice, and missing his beautiful wife, Hou Yi could only set up a table in the back yard that Chang E so loved. He laid out the incense, sweets, and fresh fruit that Chang E liked the most, and offered them to Chang E. When the people heard of Chang E flying to the moon, they also made offerings, and asked for her divine help.
And that’s how Mid Autumn Festival started.
Hope You Had a Happy Mid Autumn Festival!
You can share any Mid Autumn Festival stories, questions, or myths below =)