The festival is called Mid-Autumn as the 8th month is in the middle autumn and 15th day is in the middle of this month. On this day the moon becomes full. The full moon symbolizes reunion. That’s why Mid-Autumn Festival is also called “the Reunion Festival”.
The custom of enjoying the moon on Mid-autumn Festival was very popular in Tang Dynasty. Welcoming the full moon with moon cakes and outdoor activities is an ancient tradition. The ancient kings offered sacrifices to the moon in autumn and they celebrated this day with feasts. People who couldn’t afford having feasts would leave moon cakes in the courtyard. The custom of offering sacrifices to the moon is now replaced by activities and the festival became more about celebrating this day with family and friends and enjoying their company.
Eating moon cakes and watching the full moon is a traditional Chinese custom. The moon cake has always been regarded as a symbol of good luck and happy reunion throughout the history. The type of moon cakes differ depending on the area in China. The moon cakes can either be sugary or salty. They are not only delicious but also beautiful with the flower patterns and characters on the cakes.
The full moon is not only celebrated by moon cakes and activities, but also, the poets wrote poems about the moon. The poem In the Still of the Night written by the great poet Li Bai in Tang Dynasty is so famous among Chinese people:
I descry bright moonlight in front of my bed
I suspect it to be hoary frost on the floor
I watch the bright moon, as I tilt back my head
I yearn, while stooping, for my homeland more*.
This poem shows how would the people, who are far away from their homes on Mid-Autumn Festival, feel.
In addition to poems about moon, there are many legends and stories about it, too. One of the most famous stories is about a hero, Hou Yi, and his wife Chang E. In this ancient legend, Hou Yi shoots down nine suns and becomes a hero. He’s given the elixir of life by the Queen Mother of the Western Heavens. He wants to drink the elixir and becomes immortal but he also wants to stay with his wife. So, he decides to keep the elixir and asks his wife to keep it safe when he is away from home. One day, one of his students goes to Hou Yi’s house knowing that Hou Yi wouldn’t be there. He asks Chang E to give the elixir to him but Chang E denies. Chang E realizes that she can’t keep the elixir safe, so she drinks it, becomes immortal and flies to the moon. When Hou Yi finds out what happened, he starts enjoying the full moon and offers round cakes which his wife loved. That’s how it became a custom to enjoy the full moon in the middle of autumn and eat moon cakes.
All the legends and stories with a touch of a little bit mystery and romance make Chinese culture very interesting. The children love to listen to these stories from their elders while watching the moon and eating the moon cake.
*Wei Liming, (2010) Chinese Festivals.