Mooncakes for Mid-Autumn Festival

Mooncakes for Mid-Autumn Festival

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On the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar the skies and rivers of East Asia flood with small lanterns propelled by the flames of tiny tea candles. The orange glow honors the full moon and celebrates peace, prosperity and familial reunion. The lanterns are lit and released into the night sky, and mooncakes filled with lotus paste and salted egg yolks are exchanged as a symbol of togetherness. This celebration is the Mid-Autumn Festival which dates back nearly 3,500 years. While its practices are recognizable, its intricacies and mythical history shroud in mystery. If you travel to East Asia in late August or early September you’d be wise to learn some of the lesser-known facts about the festival.
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The Origin of Mooncakes

There is a beautiful tale that tells the story of the Mid-Autumn Festival. It describes a day when ten suns rose in the sky, causing extreme heat, widespread suffering and many deaths. Hou Yi, a young hunter, shot nine of the suns out of the sky to save the earth. He became a hero and eventually the king. Soon after, his rule turned into despotism and he sought the secret of eternal life. The Queen Mother brought him an elixir to ensure his immortality. Upon seeing the elixir, Hou Yi’s wife, Chang e grew fearful for the fate of the citizens, so she intercepted it and swallowed it herself. She began floating towards the moon, away from Hou Yi, who tried to shoot her with his arrows. His efforts were in vain and Chang e retired to a palace on the moon, where she resides to this day.

The Annual Tradition

Traditionally, the Lunar Festival is celebrated with the exchanging of mooncakes. According to legend, the origins of this tradition stem from the overthrow of the Mongol rulers of China by forces of what would eventually become the Ming dynasty. The story goes that Liu Bowen, an influential rebel leader, insisted the insurrection coincide with the Mid-Autumn festival. He spread the word by passing around cakes with hidden notes that directed the rebels to fight the Mongols on the 15th day of the eighth month.

The Holiday at Home

The celebration is commonly spent with family and close friends, exchanging mooncakes, eating dinner together, and observing the moon. Oftentimes families put a table outside, facing the moon, laden with fruits, cakes, incense, and candlesticks. Children attend the lantern parades holding colorful lanterns traditionally made of paper, though in recent times they are sometimes electronic. Short distance travel has also become popular in more recent years, with the gift of a three-day holiday. Train tickets sell out as people plan trips to nearby cities. If you plan to travel around this time be sure to book transportation in advance.

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