Celebrating Mid-Authumn Festival

Mid-Authumn Festival  was a time to enjoy the successful reaping of rice and wheat with food offerings made in honor of the moon. Today, it is an occasion for outdoor reunions among friends and relatives to eat mooncakes and watch the moon, a symbol of harmony and unity. The festival is celebrated with many cultural or regional customs, among them:

1) Burning incense in reverence to deities including Chang'e.
2) Performance of dragon and lion dances, which is mainly practiced in Southern China and Vietnam.

Appreciating the Moon

 Appreciating the moon has been a custom since the Tang Dynasty (618–907). Not only the rich merchants and officials, but also the common citizens, began appreciating the moon together at that time. The rich merchants and officials held big parties in their big courts. They drank and appreciated the bright moon. Music and dances were also indispensable. The common citizens just prayed to the moon for a good harvest.

In the early Tang Dynasty the day was officially celebrated as a traditional festival. It then became an established festival during the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279), and has become as popular as the Spring Festival since the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1368 - 1644) dynasties.

Appreciating the Lanterns
A notable part of celebrating the holiday is the carrying of brightly lit lanterns, lighting lanterns along corridors and floating sky lanterns.

It is difficult to discern the original purpose of lanterns in connection to the festival, but it is certain that lanterns were not used in conjunction with moon-worship prior to the Tang Dynasty. Traditionally, the lantern has been used to symbolize fertility, and functioned mainly as a toy and decoration. But today the lantern has come to symbolize the festival itself. In the old days, lanterns were made in the image of natural things, myths, and local cultures. Over time, a greater variety of lanterns could be found as local cultures became influenced by their neighbors.

As China gradually evolved from an agrarian society to a mixed agrarian-commercial one, traditions from other festivals began to be transmitted into the Mid-Autumn Festival, such as the putting of lanterns on rivers to guide the spirits of the drowned as practiced during the Ghost Festival, which is observed a month before. Hong Kong fishermen during the Qing Dynasty, for example, would put up lanterns on their boats for the Ghost Festival and keep the lanterns up until Mid-Autumn Festival.

Eating Moon-Cakes

Making and sharing mooncakes is one of the hallmark traditions of this festival.

In Chinese culture, a round shape symbolizes completeness and unity. Thus, the sharing of round Moon-Cakes among family members signify the completeness and unity of families.

In some areas of China, there is a tradition of aking Moon-Cakes during the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival. The senior person in that household would cut the Moon-Cakes into pieces and distribute them to each family member, signifying family reunion. In modern times, however, making Moon-Cakes at home has given way to the more popular custom of giving Moon-Cakes to family members, although the meaning of maintaining familial unity remains.

According to Chinese folklore, a Turpan businessman offered cakes to Emperor Taizong of Tang in his victory against the Xiongnu on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month. Taizong took the round cakes and pointed to the moon with a smile, saying, "I'd like to invite the toad to enjoy the hú (胡) cake." After sharing the cakes with his ministers, the custom of eating these hú cakes spread throughout the country. Eventually these became known as mooncakes. Although the legend explains the beginnings of mooncake-giving, its popularity and ties to the festival began during the Song Dynasty (906–1279 CE).

Another popular legend concerns the Han Chinese's uprising against the ruling Mongols at the end of the Yuan dynasty (1280–1368 CE), in which the Han Chinese used traditional mooncakes to conceal the message that they were to rebel on Mid-Autumn Day.

At the end of Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), a dynasty ruled by the Mongols), the Han people’s army wanted to overthrow the rule of the Mongols, so they planed an uprising, but they had no way to inform every Han who wanted to join them of the time of the uprising without being discovered by the Mongols.

One day, the military counselor of the Han people’s army, Liu Bowen(刘伯温), thought out a stratagem related to mooncakes. Liu Bowen asked his soldiers to spread the rumor that there would be a serious disease in winter and eating mooncakes was the only way to cure the disease, then he asked soldiers to write "uprising, at the night of Mid-Autumn Festival"(中秋子夜时,齐杀管家公) on papers and put them into mooncakes then sell them to common Han people. When the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival came a huge uprising broke out.

From then on, people ate mooncakes every Mid-Autumn Festival to commemorate the uprising. This part of history is almost totally forgotten today.

Courtship and Matchmaking
The Mid-Autumn moon has traditionally been a choice occasion to celebrate marriages. Girls would pray to Chang'e to help fulfill their romantic wishes.

In some parts of China, dances are held for young men and women to find partners. For example, young women are encouraged to throw their handkerchiefs to the crowd, and the young man who catches and returns the handkerchief has a chance at romance. In Daguang, in northeast Gui zhou Province (贵州省), young men and women of the Dong people would make an appointment at a certain place. The young women would arrive early to overhear remarks made about them by the young men. The young men would praise their lovers in front of their fellows, in which finally the listening women would walk out of the thicket. Pairs of lovers would go off to a quiet place to open their hearts to each other.

Popular Games Played During Moon-Cake Festival
One type of activity, "Ascent to Heaven" (Chinese: 上天堂 shàng tiāntáng) involves a young lady selected from a circle of women to "ascend" into the celestial realm. While being enveloped in the smoke of burning incense, she describes the beautiful sights and sounds she encounters.

Another activity, "Descent into the Garden" (Chinese: 落花园 luò huā yuán), played among younger girls, detailed each girl's visit to the heavenly gardens. According to legend, a flower tree represented her, and the number and color of the flowers indicated the sex and number of children she would have in her lifetime.

Men played a game called "Descent of the Eight Immortals" (降八仙), where one of the Eight Immortals took possession of a player, who would then assume the role of a scholar or warrior.

Children would play a game called "Encircling the Toad" (蠄蟝仔 qín qú zǎi / In Northern China, it is known as 癞虾蟆 lài há má), where the group would form a circle around a child chosen to be a Toad King and chanted a song that transformed the child into a toad. He would jump around like a toad until water was sprinkled on his head, in which he would then stop.

Mid-Authumn Festival Practices by region and cultures

In Taiwan
In Taiwan, the Mid-Autumn Festival is a public holiday. Outdoor barbecues have become a popular affair for friends and family to gather and enjoy each other's company.  Taipei City has designated 11 riverside parks to accommodate outdoor barbecues for the public.

In Hong Kong and Macau
The day after the Mid-Autumn Festival is a public holiday rather than the festival date itself (unless that date falls on a Sunday, then Monday is also a holiday), because many celebration events are held at night. There are a number of festive activities such as lighting lanterns, but mooncakes are the most important feature there. However, people don't usually buy mooncakes for themselves, but to give their relatives as presents. People start to exchange these presents well in advance of the festival. Hence, mooncakes are sold in elegant boxes for presentation purpose. Also, the price for these boxes are not considered cheap. However, as environmental protection has become a concern of the public in recent years, many mooncake manufacturers in Hong Kong have adopted practices to reduce packaging materials to practical limits. The mooncake manufacturers also explore in the creation of new types of mooncakes, such as ice-cream mooncake and snow skin mooncake.

Ethnic minorities in China
Korean minorities living in China near Changbai Mountain have a custom of welcoming the moon, where they put up a large conical house frame made of dry pine branches and call it a "moon house". The moonlight would shine inside for gazers to appreciate.

The Bouyei people call the occasion "Worshiping Moon Festival", where after praying to ancestors and dining together, they bring rice cakes to the doorway to worship the Moon Grandmother.

The Tu people practice a ceremony called "Beating the Moon", where they place a basin of clear water in the courtyard to reflect an image of the moon, and then beat the water surface with branches.

The Maonan people tie a bamboo near the table, on which a grapefruit is hung, with three lit incense sticks on it. This is called "Shooting the Moon".

In Singapore
Moon-Cake Festival is not a public holiday in Singapore.

In modern days Singapore, Chinese Adult Singaporeans give Moon Cakes as gifts to their elder folks and business associates. These mooncakes symbolize thankfulness and good wishes for the future.

In recent years, Singapore Government spend a lot of money on lantern light ups and street decorations in Chinatown, the Chinese Garden, and along Singapore River. Nightly stage shows and festive street bazaars are also held during the month of Moon-Cake Festival. There are also other activities such as performances of traditional dances by local arts groups, Lantern Making competition, Lantern Painting competition and stalls selling mooncakes and other goodies.

Some Chinese temples and  Chinese Clans would hold get-together sessions  to appreciate Moon-Cake and Chinese Tea, Night Food Bazaar, kids carry lanterns, Guess Riddles Games etc.

In the residential neighbourhoods of the whole Singapore, Chinese kids and teenagers, plus their malay and indian friends, would gather together to play fire by lighting up candles and burn the paper lanterns and any papers to create fire and play some fire works.

Chinese Communities in South East Asia (Malaysia , Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines etc)
Chinese Folks in South East Asia celebrate Moon-Cake Festival at night by having family get-togethers, do prayers to moon goddess, and eat mooncakes and drink Chinese Tea. Kids and teenagers light up and hang up lanterns outside their houses and get together to burn candles and play fire-works outside their houses. Malls and China Towns will be gaily decorated with thousands of lit lanterns, while various other activities all add up to a festive atmosphere.

In Vietnam

Vietnamese children celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival with traditional 5-pointed star-shaped lantern

The Mid-Autumn festival is named "Tết Trung Thu" in Vietnamese. It is also known as Children's Festival because of the event's emphasis on children.  In olden times, the Vietnamese believed that children, being innocent and pure, had the closest connection to the sacred and natural world. Being close to children was seen as a way to connect with animist spirits and deities.

One important event before and during the festival are lion dances. Dances are performed by both non-professional children's groups and trained professional groups. Lion dance groups perform on the streets, going to houses asking for permission to perform for them. If the host consents, the "lion" will come in and start dancing as a blessing of luck and fortune for the home. In return, the host gives lucky money to show their gratitude.

In Japan

Tsukimi (月見) or Otsukimi, literally moon-viewing, refers to Japanese festivals honoring the autumn moon. Tsukimi traditions include displaying decorations made from Japanese pampas grass (susuki) and eating rice dumplings called Tsukimi Dango in order to celebrate the beauty of the moon.

 Seasonal produce are also displayed as offerings to the moon. Sweet potatoes are offered to the full moon, while beans or chestnuts are offered to the waxing moon the following month. The alternate names of the celebrations, Imomeigetsu (literally "potato harvest moon") and Mamemeigetsu ("bean harvest moon") or Kurimeigetsu ("chestnut harvest moon") are derived from these offerings.

On the evening of the full moon, it is traditional to gather in a place where the moon can be seen clearly, decorate the scene with Japanese pampas grass, and to serve white rice dumplings (known as Tsukimi dango), taro, edamame, chestnuts and other seasonal foods, plus sake as offerings to the moon in order to pray for an abundant harvest. These dishes are known collectively as Tsukimi dishes (月見料理 tsukimi ryōri). Due to the ubiquity of sweet potato or taro among these dishes, the tradition is known as Imomeigetsu (芋名月) or "Potato harvest moon" in some parts of Japan.

In addition, there are several other dishes associated with Tsukimi.

Boiled soba or udon noodles topped with nori and raw egg, then covered with broth are known as Tsukimi soba or Tsukimi udon. In Kitakyushu an egg served atop yaki udon is known as Tenmado, another name for Tsukimi in the local dialect. Similarly when a raw quail egg is used to top sushi, like battleship sushi gunkanzushi or a handroll temaki it is referred to as tsukimi style.

At some fast food restaurants in Japan a special Fall Menu is offered during September and October featuring fried egg sandwiches known as Tsukimi burgers.

In Korea

Chuseok (Korean: 추석 ,秋夕), originally known as hangawi (한가위, from archaic Korean for "the great middle (of autumn)"), is a major harvest festival and a three-day holiday in Korea celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. As a celebration of the good harvest, Koreans visit their ancestral hometowns and share a feast of Korean traditional food such as songpyeon and rice wines such as sindoju and dongdongju.

Charye (차례,茶禮) is one of the ancestral memorial rites that have been done for thousand years in Korea. In modern South Korea, on Chuseok there is a mass exodus of Koreans as they return to their hometowns to pay respects to the spirits of their ancestors. People perform ancestral worship rituals early in the morning. Then they visit the tombs of their immediate ancestors to trim plants and clean the area around the tomb, and offer food, drink, and crops to their ancestors. Harvest crops are attributed to the blessing of ancestors.

 A variety of folk games are played on Chuseok to celebrate the coming of Autumn and rich harvest. Village folk dress themselves to look like a cow or a turtle, and go from house to house along with a Nongak band playing music. Other common folk games played on Chuseok are archery and Ssireum (Korean Wrestling). Folk games also vary from region to region.

Ssireum is the most popular Korean sports played during Chuseok. Korean guys usually hold Ssireum contest during Chuseok. Two guys wrestle with each other while holding tight on other’s satba, red and blue band, and a player loses when a player’s upper body touches the ground. The ultimate winner becomes 'Cheonha Jangsa', 'Baekdu Jangsa', or 'Halla Jangsa'; these all mean “the most powerful”.

The Ganggangsullae dance is a traditional folk dance performed under the full moon in the night of Chuseok. Women wear Korean traditional dress, hanbok, make a big circle by holding hands of each other, and sing a song while they are going around a circle.

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