"Zhong Qiu Jie" which is also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival, is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. Mid-Autumn is a time for family members and loved ones to congregate and enjoy the full moon - an auspicious symbol of abundance, harmony and luck.
To the Chinese, this festival is similar to the American Thanksgiving holiday, celebrating a bountiful harvest. Compared to many Chinese festivals that are inundated with vibrant colors and sounds, the Mid-Autumn festival remains more subdued. Traditionally celebrated outdoors under the moonlight, people eat moon cakes and gaze at the moon. In modern times, barbecues with families and friends are also common.
Like most Chinese holidays, the mid-autumn festival is rich in oral history and legend. According to stories, Hou Yi was a tyrannical ruler who won the elixir of immortality by shooting 9 suns out of the sky with his bow. But his wife, Chang Er, knowing that the people's lives would remain miserable for all eternity if Hou Yi lived forever, drank the potion. The fluids made her lighter, and she floated up into the moon. Hou Yi loved his divinely beautiful wife so much; he didn't shoot down the moon. Even today, Chinese like to think of the moon as home of Chang Er.
In this legend, three fairy sages transformed themselves into pitiful old men and begged for something to eat from a fox, a monkey and a rabbit. The fox and the monkey both had food to give to the old men, but the rabbit, empty-handed, offered his own flesh instead, jumping Into a blazing fire to cook himself. The sages were so touched by the rabbit's sacrifice that they let him live in the Moon Palace where he became the "Jade Rabbit."
The Mongol Hordes of Ghengis Khan subjugated the Chinese, and established the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th Century. However, many Chinese resented the fact that they were ruled by a foreign regime. In the 14th Century, Liu Bouwen helped plot the overthrow of the Yuan Dynasty by organizing resistance. Secret messages were passed along in moon cakes. Today, moon cakes are eaten to commemorate this legend.
For generations, moon cakes have been made with sweet fillings of nuts, mashed red beans, paste or Chinese dates, wrapped in a pastry. Sometimes a cooked egg yolk can be found in the middle of the rich tasting dessert. People compare moon cakes to the plum pudding and fruit cakes which are served in the English holiday seasons.
Nowadays, there are hundreds varieties of moon cakes on sale a month before the arrival of Moon Festival.
For thousands of years, the Chinese people have related the vicissitudes of life to changes of the moon as it waxes and wanes; joy and sorrow, parting and reunion. Because the full moon is round and symbolizes reunion, the Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as the festival of reunion. All family members try to get together on this special day. Those who can not return home watch the bright moonlight and feel deep longing for their loved ones.
Today, festivities centered about the Mid-Autumn Festival are more
varied. After a family reunion dinner, many people like to go out to
attend special performances in parks or on public squares.
People in different parts of China have different ways to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. In Guangzhou in South China, a huge lantern show is a big attraction for local citizens. Thousands of differently shaped lanterns are lit, forming a fantastic contrast with the bright moonlight.
In East China's Zhejiang Province, watching the flood tide of the Qian-tang River during the Mid-Autumn Festival is not only a must for local people, but also an attraction for those from other parts of the country. In mid autumn, the sun, earth and moon send out strong gravitational forces upon the seas. The mouth of the Qian-tang River is shaped like a bugle. So the flood tide which forms at the narrow mouth is particularly impressive. At its peak, the tide rises as high as three and a half meters.