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Chinese Moon Festival

Mid-Autumn Festival Legends, Mooncakes, and How to Celebrate

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Chinese lanterns Moon Festival

Chinese lanterns during the Moon Festival

Photo by Greg Rodgers

Also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival or the Mooncake Festival, the Chinese Moon Festival is an important and favorite holiday for Chinese people around the world.

The Chinese Moon Festival is a joyous time for family, friends, and couples to reunite under a full moon. All take a little time to appreciate the beautiful full moon on hopefully the clearest night of the year.

Bright lanterns are carried, hung high from poles, and launched into the sky; the sweet smell of burning joss sticks fills the air as people share traditional mooncakes at night.

Moon Festival Legends

Known as the Zhongqiu Jie in Chinese, the Moon Festival dates back to over 3,000 years. A multitude of legends have developed over the years. Most stories are based on the idea that the goddess Chang'e lives on the moon; tales of how she got there diverge widely, however.

One story suggests that the moon goddess was the wife of a legendary archer who was ordered to shoot down all of the suns in the sky besides one. After accomplishing the task, he was given an immortality pill as a reward. His wife found and took the pill instead, then later flew to the moon where she lives now.

Another Chinese Moon Festival legend states that paper messages inside of mooncakes were used as a way to organize the exact date of a coup against the ruling Mongols during the Yuan Dynasty. The Mongols were overthrown on the night of the Moon Festival. Although the legend is a little more realistic, little historical evidence suggests that this is how the Mongols were defeated.

What to Expect During the Chinese Moon Festival

The Chinese Moon Festival is a time to take a needed break from work, reunite with family and friends, and pay homage to the full moon with poems and by eating mooncakes. Couples take full advantage of the Moon Festival as a romantic time to sit under a full moon while sharing cakes.

Many shops and businesses may be closed in observance of the holiday; transportation options may be full or limited.

What are Chinese Mooncakes?

Chinese mooncakes are small, baked cakes eaten with the fingers during the Mid-Autumn Festival (or anytime you wish to try something uniquely Chinese). Mooncakes are made with egg yolks and come with a variety of fillings made from bean paste, lotus seeds, fruits, and sometimes even meat. The cakes are typically round, symbolizing the full moon.

Despite the small size, Chinese mooncakes are prepared with lard and are quite heavy to eat. Many people choose to cut mooncakes into quarters to share them with friends.

Given the difficulty of making real mooncakes, some are surprisingly expensive!

Where to Find Mooncakes

You probably won't have any trouble finding mooncakes even days before the festival. The Chinese Moon Festival has been hit hard with commercialization; every hotel, restaurant, and shop will have mooncakes on offer. Even the ice cream chain Haagen Dazs has gotten on board and offers moon cakes during the festival.

Where to See the Chinese Moon Festival

You do not have to be in China to see the Chinese Moon Festival. Chinatowns around the world will celebrate; the festival is especially prominent in places with a large Chinese population such as Vietnam, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Dates for the Chinese Moon Festival

The Mid-Autumn Festival starts on the 15th day of the eighth month based on the Chinese calendar, so dates change annually.

  • Moon Festival 2011: September 12
  • Moon Festival 2012: September 30
  • Moon Festival 2013: September 19
  • Moon Festival 2014: September 8

Learn dates for other Chinese holidays.

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  5. Chinese Moon Festival - Introduction to the Mid-Autumn Festival

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