With Mid-Autumn Festival, comes a special food called mooncake. Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most celebrated Chinese festivals as it is marking the end of the autumn harvest. It falls on the 15th day of the eighth month in the lunar calendar, also known as the Moon Festival. What does it have to do with the moon, you ask?
The festival apparently got its well-known name because it’s also the time of year when the moon is at its fullest and roundest. During this festival, families gather to enjoy dinner, light up lanterns, and eat mooncakes.
What is mooncake anyway? It’s a round-shape cookie filled with various fillings with artistic patterns that depict the legend story of the festival on top. The Chinese didn’t just eat the cookies. They sacrifice it to the moon and present them as a gift to relatives and close friends for good fortunes.
There are a variety of legend stories surroundings the festival but the celebration dates back to around 3000 years ago. The Chinese actually have celebrated the autumn harvest since the Shang dynasty. However, only during the early Tang dynasty that the festival started to gain its popularity.
The Story of Chang E
One of the most widely accepted tales regarding the origin of the festival is the story of Chang E, the lunar deity also known as the Moon Goddess of Immortality. In ancient times, it is said that there were 10 suns existed at the same time, causing great suffering to the people. Then came Hou Yi, an excellent archer who shot down nine of the suns. Therefore, only one left to bring light.
Later on, Hou Yi met and married a woman named Chang E. One day, Hou Yi met an immortal name Wangmu, who gave him an elixir that will make him immortal and become a god. However, Hou Yi didn’t want to leave his wife behind so instead of drinking the potion himself, he let Chang E kept the elixir.
Unfortunately, Peng Meng who is one of his apprentices saw the event. So while Hou Yi was out hunting, Peng Meng broke into the backyard and forced Chang E to give the elixir to him. Knowing that there’s no way she could win against Peng Meng, she swallowed the potion instead.
Right after she drank it, she flew into the sky. Her sincere love for her husband drew her to live nearby, so she chose the moon as a place to stay as the moon is the closest to the earth. When Yi learned about what happened, he grieved and grieved.
But then he was surprised to see a shadow that looked just like his wife appeared on the moon. Therefore, he put up an altar and displayed Chang E’s favorite fruits and cakes there as a sacrifice to her. People started to take notice, and on learning that Chang E became a goddess, they feel sympathetic and joined Yi in offering sacrifices to Chang E for peace and luck. Since then, the custom of praying to the moon during Mid-Autumn Day has been handed down from generation to generation.
There’s an alternate version to this myth though. It is said that after Hou Yi shot down the nine suns, he was appointed as king by the people. But then he became a cruel and arrogant emperor. He wished to be immortal so he asked for the elixir from Wang Mu.
His wife, Chang E, didn’t want her husband to cause more suffering to the people, stole it on the fifteenth of August to fail his wish. Yi became so angry upon this knowledge so he tried to shoot at his wife, but unsuccessful at his attempt. Chang E fled to the moon and became the lunar goddess. Hou Yi died soon after. The people then offer a sacrifice to Chang E on every lunar fifteenth of August to give thanks for her action.
What do you think of this legend? Which one do you like more? You can discuss more about this festival and other Chinese celebrations with your Mandarin language teacher at Cakap. Start learning at Cakap’s Mandarin course now!