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The Mid-Autumn Festival, known as Zhōngqiū Jié (中秋节) in Mandarin, is one of the most widely celebrated festivals in China and among Chinese communities worldwide. Rooted in ancient traditions, it’s a time when families reunite to celebrate unity, bountiful harvests, and the beauty of the moon at its fullest and brightest. At the heart of this enchanting festival are the symbolic mooncakes and the glow of lanterns. Let’s delve deeper into the magic of this age-old celebration.
– Liam Edwards, Teach TEFL in China, 28 August 2023
The Legend Behind the Festival
The story of the Mid-Autumn Festival is steeped in legend, with the most famous being the tale of Chang’e, the Moon Goddess. As the story goes, there once existed ten suns in the sky, which caused the Earth to scorch. Hou Yi, a hero, shot down nine of the suns and was rewarded with an elixir of immortality. However, instead of consuming it, he kept it at home. One day, to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands, his wife Chang’e drank the elixir and found herself floating towards the moon. She chose the moon as her residence so she could be close to her husband. Since then, she became the eternal resident of the moon, representing everlasting love and sacrifice.
The Significance of Mooncakes
No Mid-Autumn Festival celebration is complete without the iconic mooncakes. These dense, round pastries symbolize wholeness and unity, reflecting the essence of family reunion during the festival.
Mooncakes come with a variety of fillings, with the most traditional being a sweet paste made from lotus seeds, red beans, or sesame seeds, sometimes with a salted egg yolk in the centre to represent the full moon. The exterior is adorned with intricate patterns, often including Chinese characters for “harmony” or “longevity.”
The sharing of mooncakes is more than just enjoying a treat; it’s an expression of love and best wishes. When families gather, they cut mooncakes into pieces, ensuring everyone gets a share, symbolizing the sharing of harmony and happiness.
Lanterns: Lighting the Path
Lanterns play a pivotal role in the Mid-Autumn Festival, illuminating the night and adding a touch of whimsy to the celebrations. From simple paper lanterns to elaborate designs depicting animals, mythical creatures, or scenes from legends, these light sources are more than just decorative elements.
In ancient times, lanterns were lit to ward off evil spirits. Today, they represent a beacon of hope, guidance, and the triumphant human spirit. Children often parade with colourful lanterns, sometimes even releasing sky lanterns, imbuing the sky with a sea of floating lights, signifying the ascent of dreams and aspirations.
Activities and Traditions
Apart from mooncakes and lanterns, several customs are associated with the festival:
The Mid-Autumn Festival is a perfect blend of age-old traditions and contemporary celebrations. It serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of family, love, and gratitude. In a world that often feels fragmented, the festival, with its mooncakes and lanterns, brings people together, urging them to look up at the same moon and realize the shared dreams, hopes, and love that bind humanity. As the lanterns glow and the mooncakes are shared, one can’t help but be swept away by the profound magic of the Mid-Autumn Festival.
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