The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival
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The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, or Moon Festival, is a harvest festival that falls on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. As one of the Chinese traditional festivals, it has been enjoying great popularity in our native country of China. In fact, it is one of the two most important holidays in China, the other being the Chinese New Year, and it is a legal, national holiday. Usually, no matter how far away or how much work they have, people will try their best to go back home for a family reunion and celebration. On the night of the festival the moon is the brightest in the whole lunar month. We love to look at the full moon together with our families and friends. In addition, we also travel to different countries for vacations, or visit our relatives who live in other countries and have a big meal together.
In China, there is a mysterious legend about the Mid-Autumn Festival. It states that the earth once had ten suns circling around it, each taking turns to light up the earth. However, one day, all ten suns appeared together, scorching the earth with their extremely strong heat. This was a disaster for all living creatures on earth. The lakes and oceans dried up; plants withered; animals and humans were dying. Then, Houyi (pronounced “Ho-Yee”), a strong, skillful archer, saved the earth by shooting down nine of the suns. He became the hero, and people elected him as their King. Houyi was a great leader; people loved him. Many wanted Houyi to teach them his shooting skills. The generous Houyi accepted many students, which included a “bad guy,” Pengmeng (pronounced “Pongmong”).
As a reward for his hard work, a Goddess gave Houyi a bottle of elixir, a liquid that can turn the person who drinks it into a God or Goddess who remains forever young. Houyi loved his wife and did not want to become a God. Thus, he and his wife, Chang’e (pronounced “Chong-ooh”), hid the magic drink. However, the bad guy, Pengmeng, saw everything; he wanted to steal the elixir and drink it himself.
One day, when Houyi went into the forest to hunt, Pengmeng forced Chang’e to give the elixir to him. In that emergency situation, Chang’e drank the liquid herself. Then, she found herself floating in the air. She was going to become a Goddess. Chang’e missed Houyi, so she went to the moon, which is the nearest solar body to the Earth.
After Houyi came back home and learned what had happened, he was extremely mad and wanted to kill Pengmeng. However, the thief had already escaped. Houyi then ran outside, wanting to have one last talk with Chang’e. He saw Chang’e’s figure on the bright moon, but he could not reach her. When he walked forward, the moon moved backwards; when he walked left, the moon moved right. Houyi and her parents missed Chang’e very much. Therefore, they declared this day to be a holiday, the “Mid-Autumn Day,” and they placed the fruits and other foods that Chang’e liked on a table as a memorial to her. Her friends and family also made desserts called “moon cakes” especially for Chang’e to bring her good luck. Thus, the tradition of eating moon cakes for the Mid-Autumn Day holiday spread among the Chinese people.
We understand that the meaning behind holidays often has different versions, so we interviewed Mrs. Wu in the Business Office, a native of China, to ask her about the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival.
DiRectory: When is the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival?
Mrs. Wu: I think the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. Every year it’s on a different day. This year it was on September 27, 2015.
DiRectory: What activities do people in China do during the Mid-Autumn Festival?
Mrs. Wu: The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most important holidays in China. People usually spend it with their families. We always eat moon cakes on the Mid-Autumn Festival because that day the moon is close to the earth. So, it is a beautiful day to eat moon cakes, and we will sit with our family and look at the full, bright moon together.
DiRectory: What is in a moon cake?
Mrs. Wu: It can be sweet; it can be soft; it can have vegetables or meat inside. People make all different kinds. The most traditional moon cake has black sesame, peanut, or red bean sauce. And this year I had a green tea one.
DiRectory: Why do we celebrate this festival?
Mrs. Wu: In China we have a fairy tale story about Chang’e that the people created. The reason, I guess, is that on that day the moon is full and very big. Everyone will see the moon, and all your family members will see the moon, too. So, it will make you think about your family and friends.
We asked Mrs. Wu to explain the story as she had learned it. Here is what she said: “Chang’e was a regular person, and her husband was Houyi. As the story began there were ten suns in the sky. That was very hot. He used arrows to shoot nine suns and keep only one sun. And there was a person who gave him a pill. If he took the pill, he would live forever. One day, Houyi wasn’t at home, and one of his students tried to steal the pill. Chang’e wanted to protect the pill, so she swallowed the entire pill. Then, Chang’e flew to the moon, and on that day Houyi missed her. That is why you can see that the moon has some shade on it.”
And so, you can see that each version of the legend of the Mid-Autumn Festival is slightly different. However, the most important part of the holiday, which everyone in China understands the same way, is that we want to be with our family to eat delicious moon cakes and gaze up at the beautiful, full moon. We love our families, we love good food, and we love the gifts of nature. By celebrating holidays together, we celebrate the most important and precious parts of life, and that is why we continue the tradition of the Mid-Autumn Festival in China.