Chang'e flies to the moon, from Myths and Legends of China, 1922 by E. T. C. Werner
Chang’e flies to the moon, from Myths and Legends of China, 1922 by E. T. C. Werner

Dating back all the way to moon-worship in the Shang Dynasty 3,000 years ago, Mid-Autumn Festival is a harvest festival that takes places on the 15th day of the 8th month in the Chinese lunar calendar (usually late September or early October).

Sometimes called Moon Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival is one of China’s biggest holidays, and is next to only Spring Festival in its importance for families to come together and celebrate.

As with most Chinese traditions that have passed through many many centures, cultures and locations; Mid-Autumn Festival has a number of legends associated with it. The most widely-held legend is that of Chang’e and Houyi.

The details of the legend differ, but generally always contain the idea that Chang’e was a beautiful girl in love with an accomplished archer named Houyi. Through varying circumstance Chang’e gets her hands on a pill of immortality which causes her to float to the moon. Houyi, sometimes good and sometimes bad in the tales, eventually resides on the sun — which comes to represent the yin (male/hot/sun) and yang (female/cool/moon) principles that reside deep in Chinese culture.

Read more about the crazy adventures of Chang’e and Houyi — particularly if you like stories that contain giant sun birds that burn the earth and jade rabbits concocting TCM potions on the moon.

photo by aveoree
photo by aveoree

The two most traditional foods to eat during Mid-Autumn Festival are mooncakes and pomelos — neither of which do anything for our tastes here at Lost Laowai. Mooncakes are usually small dense biscuits which are often filled with meat or sweet bean paste. Living in China, mooncakes are often given in large elaborate boxes as gifts at this time of year. We’ve yet to meet anyone who’s eaten more than one.

The most important aspect of Mid-Autumn Festival though is simply getting together with family and eating a large meal. With its connections to the autumn harvest, it is very similar in this regard to North American thanksgiving holidays.

Upcoming Mid-Autumn Festivals

  • 2014: September 8
  • 2015: September 27
  • 2016: September 15
  • 2017: October 4
  • 2018: September 24
  • 2019: September 13
  • 2020: October 1
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