Mid Autumn Festival folklore and traditions

Mid Autumn Festival folklore and traditions

Before you indulge in another delicious slice of mooncake and light up another lantern for your kids, read about the origins of the Mid Autumn Festival traditions.

Mid Autumn Festival folklore and traditionsThe Mid-Autumn Festival is the next major Chinese celebration after Chinese New Year and The Dragon Boat Festival. There are various stories that explain the origins of the festival and the traditional customs carried out during this time.

Mooncakes are revolutionary

The sweet and humble mooncake has its roots in espionage and rebellion. According to a widespread story, the Chinese wanted to overthrow the Mongol rulers of the 12th century Yuan Dynasty. The leaders of the rebellion ordered the making of special cakes. Baked into each moon cake was a slip of paper that bore the instructions,“Kill the Mongols on the 15th day of the eight month.” The rebels overthrew the Mongols and established the Ming dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644).

Today, moon cakes -- without the messages inside, are eaten to commemorate this story.

Lanterns for moon-gazing

According to tradition, families will go out after dinner with their lanterns to gaze at the full moon. Traditional lanterns are made of coloured cellophane paper and come in many variations such as rabbit, fish, butterfly and flower shapes. Candles are used to light up the lanterns traditionally but safety concerns has brought about battery powered plastic cartoon characters like Hello Kitty and Pokemon.

The lady in the moon

Ever wonder how that beautiful lady in the moon illustrated on every box of mooncakes got there in the first place? Legends say once the earth had ten suns orbiting around it. Each sun took its turn to give heat to the earth. But one day all ten suns appeared together. The earth was saved by the expert archer and ruler Hou Yi. He shot down nine of the suns -- such was his power.

One day, Hou Yi stole the elixir of immortality from a goddess. But his beautiful wife Chang Er drank the elixir in order to save the people from her husband's tyrannical rule. After drinking it, she fled to the moon. Hou Yi adored his lovely wife so much that he didn't shoot down the moon.

The rabbit that committed charitable suicide

Not only is there a lady in the moon, there is a rabbit sharing her lunar space. The story goes that three sages transformed themselves into old beggars and asked for food from a fox, a monkey and a rabbit. The fox and the monkey both had food to spare, but the rabbit, empty-handed, offered his own flesh. He leapt into a roaring fire to cook himself. The sages were so awestruck by the rabbit's sacrifice that they let him reside in the Moon Palace where he became the "Jade Rabbit."

You can still see the generous rabbit today -- the dark areas on the moon can be said to resemble the ears and and body of a rabbit.

The AsianParent would like to wish all readers Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

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Written by

Felicia Chin

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