mooncake and mid autumn festival myths

Mooncakes and Myths: The Intriguing Stories Behind the Mid-Autumn Festival

The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Chinese Moon Festival, is one of the most significant and enchanting holidays in Chinese culture. Celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, this festival falls during the harvest season, symbolising reunion, gratitude, and the bounty of nature. Families come together to enjoy various activities, share traditional foods like mooncakes, and bask in the beauty of the full moon. But beyond the celebrations lies a rich tapestry of myths and stories that make the Mid-Autumn Festival a truly magical holiday.

Origins and Significance

The Mid-Autumn Festival has deep historical roots, dating back over 3,000 years to the Shang Dynasty. Originally a harvest festival, it was a time for farmers to celebrate the end of the summer harvesting season. The roundness of the full moon symbolised completeness and unity, and thus, it became a time for family reunions and thanksgiving. The festival’s enduring popularity can be attributed to its themes of unity, prosperity, and harmony, resonating deeply with the Chinese people across generations.

The Legend of Chang’e: The Moon Goddess

One of the most famous myths associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival is the story of Chang’e, the Moon Goddess. According to the legend, there were ten suns in the sky, scorching the earth and making life unbearable. The great archer Hou Yi shot down nine of the suns, leaving only one to provide light and warmth. As a reward, he was given an elixir of immortality. However, Hou Yi loved his wife Chang’e so much that he chose to remain mortal to stay with her.

One day, while Hou Yi was away, his apprentice tried to steal the elixir. To prevent this, Chang’e drank the elixir herself and ascended to the moon, where she became a goddess. Heartbroken, Hou Yi would place offerings of food and incense in their garden, hoping to catch a glimpse of his beloved wife. This poignant story of love and loss is commemorated during the Mid-Autumn Festival, with people gazing at the moon and thinking of their loved ones far away.

The Rabbit on the Moon

Another enchanting story involves the Jade Rabbit, who is often depicted pounding the elixir of life on the moon. According to legend, the Jade Emperor disguised himself as a poor old man and asked three animals—a fox, a monkey, and a rabbit—for food. The fox and monkey brought food to the old man, but the rabbit, having nothing to offer, jumped into the fire to sacrifice himself. Moved by the rabbit’s selflessness, the Jade Emperor sent him to live on the moon, where he became the Jade Rabbit, a companion to Chang’e.

This tale highlights virtues such as selflessness and loyalty, which are cherished in Chinese culture. During the Mid-Autumn Festival, children often hear these stories, fostering a sense of wonder and teaching important moral lessons.

Mooncakes: The Sweet Symbol of Reunion

No discussion of the Mid-Autumn Festival is complete without mentioning mooncakes. These round pastries symbolise unity and completeness, aligning with the full moon and the festival’s themes of family reunion. Traditionally, mooncakes are filled with lotus seed paste, red bean paste, or salted egg yolk, each bite offering a rich, flavourful experience.

The history of mooncakes dates back to the Yuan Dynasty, when they were used to secretly communicate during the rebellion against the Mongol rulers. Messages were hidden inside the cakes, coordinating the Han Chinese uprising that eventually led to the establishment of the Ming Dynasty. Today, mooncakes are exchanged among family and friends as tokens of love and good wishes, with modern variations featuring everything from ice cream to chocolate.


Mid Autumn Festival Celebrations

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Celebrations and Activities

The Mid-Autumn Festival is a time of joyous celebration, marked by a variety of activities that bring families and communities together. Here’s a look at some of the most popular traditions:

Moon Gazing

One of the most beloved activities during the Mid-Autumn Festival is moon gazing. Families set up tables outdoors with offerings of mooncakes, fruits, and other treats, then spend the evening admiring the full moon. It’s a time for storytelling, reminiscing, and appreciating the beauty of nature. The moon’s bright, round shape is seen as a symbol of reunion and harmony, making this a deeply meaningful activity.

Lanterns and Light

Lanterns play a significant role in the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations. Children and adults alike carry colourful lanterns of various shapes and sizes, illuminating the night with a soft, magical glow. Lantern processions and displays are common, with some communities organizing large-scale lantern festivals featuring intricate designs and themes.

In addition to their aesthetic appeal, lanterns have symbolic meanings. They represent hope, dreams, and the wish for a bright future. Releasing sky lanterns is another popular activity, where people write their wishes on the lanterns before sending them aloft, believing that their prayers will reach the heavens.

Cultural Performances and Games

Many communities organise cultural performances and games during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Traditional Chinese opera, music, and dance performances showcase the rich cultural heritage of China, while games like tug-of-war, mooncake-eating contests, and riddle-solving provide fun and entertainment for all ages.

Worshiping the Moon

In some regions, people set up altars to worship the moon, offering incense, candles, and foods such as mooncakes, fruits, and taro. This practice is rooted in ancient beliefs and expresses gratitude to the moon for its light and its role in the agricultural cycle. It’s also a time to pray for good fortune, health, and happiness.

celebration in london: mooncake tasting

Dear Asia London is bringing the vibrant spirit of the Mid-Autumn Festival to the heart of the city with a special mooncake tasting event. The event is all about the mooncakes. Guests will have the opportunity to sample an exquisite variety of mooncakes, ranging from the classic lotus seed paste with salted egg yolk to innovative flavours like matcha green tea, black sesame, and even chocolate. The event will also feature a selection of Chinese teas to complement the mooncakes, enhancing the tasting experience. You will be able to learn all the stories and traditions about the festival. Join us as we raise our mooncakes and toast to reunion, happiness, and the magic of the full moon.


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Wishing Each Other a Happy Mid-Autumn

As the Mid-Autumn Festival approaches, people exchange greetings and best wishes with family, friends, and colleagues. Common phrases include “Happy Mid-Autumn” (中秋快乐, Zhōngqiū kuàilè) and “Wishing you a happy Mid-Autumn Festival” (祝你中秋节快乐, Zhù nǐ zhōngqiū jié kuàilè). These expressions of goodwill and joy enhance the sense of community and shared celebration.

The Modern Mid-Autumn Festival

In modern times, the Mid-Autumn Festival continues to evolve, blending traditional customs with modern innovations. Mooncakes now come in a wide array of flavors and styles, catering to diverse tastes and dietary preferences. Lantern designs have become more creative and sophisticated, incorporating modern themes and technology.

Despite these changes, the essence of the festival remains the same: a time for family reunions, gratitude, and the celebration of the harvest. Whether in a bustling city or a quiet village, the Mid-Autumn Festival brings people together under the light of the full moon, fostering a sense of connection and continuity with the past. As families gather to celebrate, gaze at the moon, and wish each other a happy Mid-Autumn, they partake in a tradition that has endured for centuries, reminding us of the enduring power of unity, love, and gratitude.

So, as the full moon rises this Mid-Autumn Festival in September, take a moment to appreciate its beauty, share a mooncake with loved ones. Happy Mid-Autumn!


Event for Company Celebrations

Explore our open events that immerse you in the vibrant celebrations of Asian cultures, right here in London. Join us to experience the rich traditions and festive spirit of various Asian communities.

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