It’s that time of the year again where we see assorted mooncakes and colourful lanterns on sale everywhere because Mid-Autumn Festival is here!
This festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month in the lunar calendar (24 September this year), which happens to be the day with a full moon at night.
This special day is also known as the Moon Festival because it is also the time of the year when the moon is the fullest, roundest and brightest!
If you never noticed this before, maybe this year is a good time to start paying attention.
The Mid-Autumn Festival
began as an ancient Chinese tradition to celebrate the harvest during the autumn full moon in the Shang Dynasty (1600 – 1046 BC).
The people back then saw that the movement of the moon had something to do with the seasonal changes and agricultural production. So, they felt that it was important to give thanks to the moon and offer sacrifices during autumn.
Over the decades, the festival translated into the custom of appreciating the moon and the harvest season.
As we are more accustomed to here, moon cake
is a must-have during Mid-Autumn Festival everywhere.
In the Chinese culture, the round shape of a moon cake symbolises reunion and fullness. Hence this sweet delicacy is best enjoyed among families to portray unity.
Besides eating (because this is not the only thing Malaysians are good at), those who are young and young at heart also gather to parade around recreational parks or residential areas with brightly lit lanterns.
Some would even go the extra mile to light the vicinity up with candles all around, turning the entire space into our own fairytale wonderland.
Or are we the only ones who do that?
Moving on, we know how Malaysians generally celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. But what do other countries do during this season?
The festival custom has trickled down to some Southeast Asian and Northeast Asian countries over the years, especially among people of Chinese descent.
In the origin country, Mid-Autumn Festival is a time for family and friends to reunite, feast on big meals, eat moon cakes, and watch the perfectly-round moon over a cup of tea. In some parts of the country, people also burn incense to offer to deities, as well as hold dragon and lion dances.
This is considered the second grandest celebration after the Lunar New Year, so people in mainland China would enjoy a day off to spend this extended celestial celebration.
Mid-Autumn Festival is also a large-scale event in South Korea. Often known as their own version of Thanksgiving Day, this day is celebrated as a three-day holiday here where people return to their hometowns to visit their families.
Koreans would pay their ancestors’ grave a visit and present an offering table filled with rice cakes, rice wine and fresh fruits. Traditionally, you will see food like steamed rice, rice cakes and liquor made from newly harvested rice during this festival.
As night falls, people would come together to enjoy the harvest full moon and play folk games like the Korean circle dance.
The Japanese celebrate this festival on the same day by keeping the custom of moon appreciation since it was introduced by China more than 1,000 years ago. The ceremony also includes a prayer for a rich harvest of crops, the moon, and the relationship between the aesthetic and the spiritual.
Although the lunar calendar is no longer used in Japan, this custom of appreciating the moon remains throughout the country. The Japanese also indulges in glutinous rice cake as a festival food, not moon cakes.
As our neighbour, the Singaporeans celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival not all that differently from us.
They exchange moon cakes between each other as gifts, and roam around the streets holding lanterns of different colours and sizes.
The city also takes this opportunity to attract tourists by decorating popular attractions with bright lights and more.
The Thais believe that the Eight Immortals would visit the Moon Palace to send peach-shaped cakes and celebrate Guan Yin’s birthday on the night of Mid-Autumn Festival. After the birthday celebration, Guan Yin and the Eight Immortals would bless the people living on earth.
Hence the festival offerings would usually include cakes shaped like peaches as well. Family members both young and old would then sit around the table to worship the moon and exchange greetings.
On Mid-Autumn Festival, Chinese towns and colonies across the Philippines are decorated with beautiful lanterns and colourful banners, especially China Town in Manila.
Some of the popular activities held on this day include dragon dances, lantern procession and float parades. There is also a chance game played with dice called the Moon Cake Game that is played between the Chinese and Filipinos during the festival.
Interestingly, children play the most important role in Vietnam during Mid-Autumn Festival because the full month in the eighth lunar month symbolises fertility.
As the festival approaches, markets are flooded with lanterns and toys instead of moon cakes. Children would receive gifts like toys, cakes, fruit and rice paste molded into animal shapes.
They would also parade around with lanterns in the form of stars, wearing masks portraying animals or characters from movies, comic books and anime.
Besides that, people would organise competitions during the season for the best and most beautiful lantern in some parts of Vietnam. Traditionally, a paper scholar dressed in the cap and robe of a court official also acts as a gift to children to inspire them to achieve great things in life.
What unique celebrations from all around the world, don’t you think? So, the next time you pick up a lantern or bite into a moon cake, think about how the different ways Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated by others.
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival, Moon Cake Festival or Lantern Festival, everyone!