Also called as the mid-autumn festival, this is essentially a harvest celebration enjoyed by the people of Chinese and Vietnamese origin.
This festival is observed on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar on a full moon night. This date corresponds to the span of late September and early October by the Gregorian calendar. It was made a public holiday in China in 2008.
This festival is considered to be the second most important Chinese festival after the Chinese New Year and for the people of Vietnam; it comes after their most important holiday Tet.
This festival is known by various other names like the Lantern Festival (Singapore and Malaysia), Children’s Festival (Vietnam), Harvest Moon Festival and Moon Cake Festival (China). The August Moon Festival is going to take place on the 4th of October in the year 2017.
What This Festival Is All About?
This festival mainly revolves around the following concepts and all its traditions and customs have evolved from them:
- Gathering And Reunions – This festival is all about coming together and spending time with friends and family. All the family members jointly celebrate the end of autumn harvest crops on this day. The moon is believed to the biggest and fullest on this day. The full moon signifies prosperity, happiness and family reunions.
- Thanksgiving – The people convey their gratitude and give thanks for their autumn harvest.
- Praying – This festival is also associated with traditions like moon gazing and praying to the moon for virtues and materialistic grants like wealth, beauty, children, life partner, good health or a lucky future. The moon is worshipped on this day and hence the name.
Origin And History Of This Festival
- The Chinese people have begun celebrating this festival from as early as 3000 years ago.
- This tradition of celebrating the harvest during the autumn full moon night dates back to the Shang Dynasty (1600 – 1046 BC).
- The ritual of harvest celebration has its origin in the worship of the mountain Gods after the harvest would be accomplished and done with.
- This event is considered important right from the olden times and many stories, poems and legends are widespread about this cultural festival. As a festival, this occasion started to gain popularity in the beginning of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 CE).
- One of the legend talks about the Emperor Xuanzong of Tang starting to host these celebrations in his own palace following his visit to the moon-palace.
- Another of the legends state that Empress Dowager Cixi loved celebrating this festival to such an extent that she would engage in elaborate and extravagant rituals all throughout the thirteenth to seventeenth day of the eighth lunar month.
- The ancient Chinese believed moon to be associated with rejuvenation and hence worshipping the moon was commenced.
- Offerings were made to lunar deity Chang’e who is the Moon Goddess of Immortality.
- Hence, still today the customs of praying to the moon and offering sacrifices to Chang’e on this full moon night are prevalent.
Traditions And Celebration
This festival is an occasion to celebrate the successful harvest of rice and wheat along with food offerings prepared in honor of the moon deity. This day is enjoyed by performing various traditions and customs like the burning of incense sticks to respect the moon God as well as the staging of acts like lion and dragon dances more prevalent in Southern China and Vietnam.
One of the most prominent features of this festival is the involvement of lanterns. Lanterns are lit and carried around the town. They are also lit up on towers or floated into the sky. Also, riddles are written on them. Anciently, Lantern used to symbolize fertility but now it is closely associated with the on goings of this festival. A hallmark tradition of this festival is the act of preparing and eating moon cakes.
These cakes are round in shape which signifies completeness and reunion. During this festival, Moon cakes are thus shared amongst eaten by all the members of the family to maintain their unity. It’s also a ritual that the senior most member of the household would cut the moon cake and distribute it among the rest of the family symbolizing reunion. Other important dishes served during this festival are nine-jointed lotus roots signifying peace, watermelon signifying reunion, cassia cakes and candy.
The drink of the festival is cassia wine regarded as the “reunion wine”. The food sacrificing and offerings that are made to the moon deity are kept arranged on an altar in the courtyard. These comprise of pears, grapes, apples, oranges, pomegranates and pomelos. This is an occasion also known for celebrating the essence of marriage and match making. Young girls offer their prayers to Chang’e to get a desired romantic partner. Dances are hosted for young men and women to find their suitable partners. Various traditional games are also played amongst men and woman on this day.