✦ 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.
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...
Meet Hou Yi and Chang-Er. Yes, now we move on to the love story version. Legend has it that there used to be not one but ten suns in the sky. The heat made life unbearable. A hero named Hou Yi wanted to stop the suffering of the people. He was an excellent archer and he climbed up to the top of Mount Kunlun where he shot down nine of the suns. Hou Yi became a well-loved figure. He then married a beautiful girl named Chang-E. They loved each other very much.
Hou Yi was given a special gift from the Queen of Heaven - an elixir of life. It was a promise of immortality...but only for one person. There was the catch. Hou Yi was so in love with his wife he had no desire for such elixirs and he gave it to Chang-Er for safekeeping.
Unfortunately, among their acquaintances was an evil man named Peng Meng. He took the opportunity to break into Hou Yi's house when he was not around to steal the elixir. Chang-Er was home then and she was unable to stop his treacherous act. She swallowed the elixir instead. She started to float away from the ground and flew into the sky. It was said she became an immortal and lived on the moon.
Of course, when Hou Yi returned, he was devastated. He noticed however that the moon was exceptionally bright and clear that night and thought he saw a figure like that of his wife's on the moon. He ordered a ceremony to be put together then to honour his wife, and thereafter, the local people also did the same. Worshipping and appreciating the moon has become popular since then.
How to celebrate
It is typical to light lanterns on this night. You'd see families out on evening walks with children holding lanterns, and houses would be decorated with lanterns as well. Some families like to have osmanthus flowers around as well as they symbolise purity and innocence.
This is a time for family gatherings. People sit around together outside, moon gazing and enjoying eating delicious mooncakes and drinking tea.
And if you're feeling particularly poetic on the evening of the Mid Autumn Festival, you may be inspired to recite some poems. Here are two of the most famous and beloved Chinese poems that many Chinese children learnt to recite by heart, and it´s often only when we are much older that we begin to appreciate what the words mean.
Check out this website for the poems - you can even hear it being read and read the translations in English!
Thoughts in the Silent Night - Li Bai
The Moon Festival - Su Shi
Now where do I get my hands on some delicious mooncakes you say? During this time of the year, many confectionery shops and bakeries would already be preparing lots in advance. Some hotels even have their own brands of mooncakes! Many come in stylish boxes and elegant wrapping. Over the years, chefs have gotten creative with mooncakes and many have come up with new recipes, new tastes and flavours. They make great gifts for friends and family. Many are often too pretty to be eaten!
And if you want to be adventurous this year, why not try making your own mooncake? My Blue Tea always has lots of recipes for just about any food you miss from home, and you´re going to love these two incredible mooncake recipes!
We'll be ready with our favourite flavour of mooncakes come 10th September to admire the brilliant moon. How will you be celebrating?
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