Admire the Brilliant Moon during the Mid Autumn Festival

✦ Reunite with loved ones while moon gazing and partaking of delicious pastries and fragrant tea!

When was the last time you looked up at the moon and really saw how beautiful and fascinating this luscious orb really is?

The Mid Autumn Festival is a good time to do this. September 10th is when the Chinese celebrate this festival. It's also known as the Mooncake Festival or Zhong Qiu Jie 中秋节 (in Mandarin).

It falls on the 15th day of the eight lunar month. It is common practice during this time to make or buy mooncakes, which are little round pastries with a sweet filling often eaten with tea. These are offered as gifts and people eat them at moon gazing nights, often with lanterns lit around them.

Traditional mooncakes with lotus paste and egg yolk fillings featured in Brilliant-Online
Traditional mooncakes with lotus paste and egg yolk filling

The Perfect Circle

The circle is an auspicious symbol - just as is the full moon. It is a symbol of reunion and perfection, of coming together as one. During this time of the year, the moon is at its brightest. And there is something sublime and awe-inspiring to look up and see so much light pour from this little round circle in the sky. Thankfully, it does not hurt our eyes to stare at the moon! (As children we often had our hands smacked by adults if we were caught pointing at the moon. It was an old superstition that we would get our finger or ear cut off by the Lady on the Moon if we pointed at her place of abode as it was disrespectful!)

Festivals are more than just a time to eat, drink and be merry. They were all perfectly calculated to be celebrated at this precise time of the year, and the Mid Autumn Festival marks the end of the harvest as well as the end of the Hungry Ghost Festival.

For the lovebirds out there, the day of the Mid Autumn Festival is said to be an auspicious date for weddings. It's when the Moon Goddess bestows bliss on couples!

How it started

The festival goes back more than 2000 years. It started off as a post-autumn harvest celebration, primarily devoted to thanking the gods for giving the people abundance and a good life. It was during the Northern Song dynasty (reign of Emperor Tai) that this particular day was officially set as Mid Autumn Festival.

As children, we were told several versions about the Mid Autumn Festival. Typically we would be told the story with the historical slant and another one that is more romantic. You decide for yourself which one resonates more with you on this special day as you feast on the beautiful mooncakes.

The historical take...

First, let's time travel back to the 14th century. During the liberation of Yuan China from the Mongols, mooncakes played an important role. And no, we do not mean in terms of sustenance and being a good source of energy for the body. It's actually a lot more creative than that.

At that time, the country was run by cruel Mongol rulers. People wanted to rebel and liberate the country from the tyrants.

Rebel leader Zhu Yuan Zhang needed to instigate a rebellion, but in those days, there was a ban on large gatherings (and they did not have Facebook or Twitter to spread the news) so it was impossible to round people up. His military counsellor, Liu Bowen came up with the ingenious idea of hiding slips of paper containing the details of the revolt in little round cakes.

This was how the word spread. The little round cakes were passed around innocently and people got to know about the rebellion. Finally, the rebellion took place during the Mid Autumn Festival. The rebels successfully took over the palace and that was how the Ming Dynasty started with Zhu Yun Zhang as the first emperor. So one could say that this dynasty came into existence, thanks to these little round pastries.

So the next time you cut up a piece of mooncake, you may even wonder if you'd find a hidden message embedded in the sweet filling.

And something for the romantics...