Living in China sometimes makes me feel so immersed into this culture and so distant from everything else in the world! But I am grateful to be around such rich traditional values and to enjoy what China has to offer us.
When you speak of Fall traditions in China, just one major one comes to mind – Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival. I am not the first nor the last one to write about it. It is always an exciting event in China. There is no fixed date for it as all Chinese traditional holidays are celebrated according to the Lunar Calendar. However it is known to be celebrated on the 15th day of the Chinese Lunar calendar.
If you are in China, you will know the Mid-Autumn Festival is coming: the shops will be filled with various moon cakes (round pastries, filled with nuts, egg yolks, bean paste and what not) of all colors and flavor. Every bakery, restaurant and coffee shop makes their own and right around the actual Mid-Autumn Day people are busy swapping moon cakes (we have at least 3 more boxes of these sweet cakes in our house at the moment!).
So, what happens during Mid-Autumn Festival? Everyone visits friends and if possible – relatives. People eat traditional food made out of pumpkin, taro, river snails and duck. Every province offers their own version of dishes (duck with taro, salted and baked duck, steam-fried taro with and without chillis and more).
How did the Mid-Autumn Festival come to exist? There are few legends, one of which is a story of a beautiful woman called Chang’e and her husband Peng Meng. The basic scope is that Chang’e takes the pill of immortality and ascends to the Moon. However, different versions portray the husband and the wife differently: in one version, greedy Chang’e takes the pills which were for both her and her husband, and when Peng Meng finds out – she flies away to the Moon. In another story, Peng Meng is not a good person and he threatens Chang’e’s life, so she takes the elixir of immortality, flies to the Moon and becomes a fairy.
Another story is about a lazy man called Wu Kang who wants to become immortal and visit the moon. So he is asked to chop down a cassia tree that that grows from the moon’s surface. However just as Wu Kang is about to finish his job, he gets lazy, takes a break and the tree grows back. The day he gets the break is the Mid-Autumn day.
And the last story is about a wise men and his three pets: a rabbit, a fox and a monkey. Famine comes and the old man is dying from hunger so the animals are spread in search for food. Rabbit has no luck finding anything, so seeing his friend dying he sacrifices himself for his companions by jumping into the fire. Gods touched by his sacrifice elevate him to the moon. He becomes the mystical Jade Rabbit – one of the traditional gifts given during the Festival to protect the homes.
Moon cakes are said to be the symbol of the full moon. So when people give them and share them together it symbolizes unity and cooperation. Moon cakes are very rich and dense, eating 1-2 of them makes you really full. My favorite flavor is black sesame paste – it looks and tastes almost like chocolate and my 4 year old loves them too!
Here are giant moon cake from this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival celebration (September, 30th) at my husband’s kindergarten:
Often Mid-Autumn Festival coincides with another big holiday in China – National Week or Golden Week. It is a celebration of establishment of China PR. People get 7 days off and if the Mid-Autumn Festival is right before it or right after it – it adds up, like this year, to whole 8 days off.
So if you are in China during Mid-Autumn Festival you will be able to try the delicious moon cakes and enjoy the festivities!