It’s that time of the year again, where the arrival of the Mid-Autumn Festival – falling on the 10th of September in 2022 – is just around the corner. If Chinese New Year is the most important traditional festival amongst Chinese communities around the world, then the Mid-Autumn Festival is the second most important.
Originating back in the 10th century during the Song Dynasty, the festival may have started out with the legend of the moon goddess. As the ancient story goes, Chang’e was originally a mere mortal. The ordinary wife of a famed archer named Hou Yi, who saved the earth from burning into cinders by shooting down nine suns out of ten. Pleased with Hou Yi, celestial deities (in some versions, the queen of heaven) gifted him with an elixir which would grant him immortality. However, Hou Yi didn’t want to live forever as he only wanted to be with his mortal wife. So he left the potion untouched in their home.
Unfortunately, Hou Yi had a jealous apprentice who witnessed the exchange and barged into Hou Yi’s house while he was away, threatening and demanding it from Chang’e. Having no choice, Chang’e drank the elixir herself to keep it from the apprentice’s hands and as a result, flew up to the moon, where she’d live as a goddess for the rest of eternity.
Some versions of the legend say that Hou Yi later became the God of the Sun in his determination to reach his wife in the heavens. Thus, the couple is reunited once a month when the full moon burns brightly from the force of their love.
While there are many other legends surrounding the Mid-Autumn festival, such as the Jade Rabbit creating the elixir of immortality, as well as the story of Wu Gang cutting down an ever-growing tree, the heart of the festival was to mark the end of the harvest season and celebrate it with family.
As society depended on agriculture to survive in the ancient times, it is believed that paying homage to the moon, along with the sun, in thanks for receiving a bountiful harvest brought prosperity and happiness. Today, while we’ve moved from agricultural reasons to celebrate the festival, the main spirit of the festival remains – specifically, the spirit of gratitude and unity of family. Celebrations today are a reminder to give thanks for the blessings that we have in life and for joyful reunions with loved ones under the moonlight. Weddings frequently occur during this time as the auspicious energy around the festival is also believed to strengthen romantic unions.
The creation of mooncakes as a result, is symbolic for the completion of the year’s blessings and wholeness of the family. Which is why eating mooncakes and placing them in offerings for ancestral worship, along with drinking osmanthus wine or tea is a must during the festival as it is believed that good luck, harmony, wealth, and auspicious ness would come to the family.