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Mid-Autumn Festival

7/24/2012 6:12:59 PM | by Anonymous

Lotus Paste Mooncake

Mid-Autumn Festival

Like most cultures, the Chinese have a harvest festival known formally as Mid-Autumn Festival. Celebrated annually, the festival is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar and it is the time when crops are ripened, the weather is pleasant and the moon is at its brightest. It is not only celebrated by the Chinese but also the Vietnamese and the Japanese. There are several legends and myths that explain as to why the Chinese celebrate this festival, but amongst these, the legend of Houyi and Chang'e is the most popular.

 

Houyi and Chang'e

The tale of Houyi and Chang'e itself has many variations aside from the other reasons as to why the Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated. Folklore states that in ancient China, there were ten suns rising in the sky that scorched crops and made it impossible for people to farm, driving them into dire poverty. Houyi saw this and used his superhuman strength coupled with extraordinary archery skills to shoot down nine of the suns. For his bravery, he was respected and loved by the people and was given a parcel of elixir by Empress of Heaven Wangmu. The elixir was said to have special powers and by consuming it, one would ascend immediately to heaven and become a celestial being. Houyi did not want to part from his wife, Chang’e, so he gave it to her to treasure it for the time.

 

Chang’e kept the parcel safely but Peng Meng, one of the town people saw this and wanted to have the elixir. One day when Houyi was out, Peng Meng rushed into the inner chamber of and forced Chang’e to handover the parcel to him. Chang’e knowing that she could not match Peng Meng’s strength made a prompt decision to consume the elixir herself instead of handing it over to Peng Meng. Once she had consumed it, her body immediately floated off the ground and flew towards heaven. When Houyi returned, he learned of what had happened from the maidservants and was overcome with grief. Thinking of his wife, Houyi arranged an incense table with sweetmeats and fresh fruits in the back garden, all of which Chang’e loved, as a memorial ceremony for the deed she had done to prevent an evil person from obtaining the elixir. When people heard of this, they one by one started arranging such feasts as a way to pay respect to Chang’e. From then on this custom spread and still continues today.

 

Overthrow of Mongol rule

Another folktale states that the celebrations of the mid-autumn or otherwise known as Mooncake Festival are held to commemorate an uprising in china against the Mongol rulers in the 14th century. During that period, group gatherings had been banned therefore it was impossible to plan a rebellion against the Mongols. Liu Bowen, who was an advisor to the Chinese rebel leader Zhu Yuanzhang, came up with an idea. As Mongols did not eat mooncakes, he got permission from the rulers to distribute mooncakes to residents in the city to bless the Mongol emperor with longevity. Inside the cakes, however was a piece of paper that gave instructions to residents to “kill the Mongols on the 15th day of the 8th month”. On the night, the attack was successful and the rebels overthrew the government. This is why Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated with mooncakes on a national level in China.

 

Vietnamese Version

Name “Tet Trung Thu” in Vietnam, the Vietnamese version of the festival recounts the legend of Cuoi, whose wife accidentally urinated on a banyan tree and later sat on one of the branches and the tree then began to grow, until it reached the moon, leaving Cuoi’s wife stranded there. Every year, during the festival, kids light lanterns as a method of showing Cuoi’s wife a way back to Earth. Lion dances and mooncakes are symbolic in the Mid-Autumn Festival in Vietnam.

 

Summary

Different cultures have different tales to tell as to why a festival is being celebrated. Even within the same culture, for example the Chinese folktales, there are many variation to one tale itself. Despite the variations, Mid-Autumn Festival serves as a time for families to bond and have meals together while sharing recounts of their lives. Lighted streets, vibrant and colourful lanterns and delicious mooncakes form a major part of this festival. With the moon glowing at its fullest and colourful lanterns lighting up the night sky, it’s an amazing sight to look-out for!

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