Every year, on August 15th of the lunar calendar, the East Asian cultural sphere (consists of nations in East and Southeast Asia that were historically influenced by the Chinese culture, including literary traditions and religions) happens Mid-Autumn Festival. Many researchers believe that this festival originated from China; and nowhere, the Mid-Autumn Festival is held as big as in this country.
Read more about Mid-Autumn Festival in Japan – Otsukimi Festival
Legends of Mid-Autumn Festival in China
The legend of Chang’E and Hou Yi
The legend of Chang’E (Goddess Moon) and Hou Yi has many different versions. The most common version has been handed down as follows: In ancient times, there were 10 suns in the sky burning grass and trees and making human life miserable. At that time, an archer named Hou Yi appeared and shot down nine suns. He left a sun shining daily and bringing the good life to the earth. Later, Hou Yin met a beautiful and kind girl named Chang’E and married her.
In repay for Hou Yi, Xiwangmu (Queen Mother of the West) gave him an immortal pill to help him become a god. However, because he wanted to live with his wife, How Yi hid the pill in a chest. The incident spread to the ears of Peng Meng, a student of Hou Yi. He had the idea of stealing the pill. When Hou Yi went hunting, the pupil forced Chang’E to give the pill. In an urgent situation, she had to swallow fully of the magical pill and was brought straight into the sky. Jade Emperor allowed Chang’E to stay on the moon so that she was close to the homeland. Day and night she looked forward to her husband.
Because of missing her gentle wife, Hou Yi usually placed a tray of dishes that his wife liked in front of the house at the night of the bright moon, hoping that she could see it from the moon. This was followed by the people and gradually became the Mid-Autumn Festival, wishing of family reunion and happiness.
The legend of Táng Míng Hoáng going to the moon
Táng Míng Huáng times (713 –755) started to have the custom of the Mid-Autumn Festival. According to legend, one year, on August 15th of the lunar calendar, when Táng Míng Hoáng and his children watched the full moon, King Táng wished to go to heaven once. A magician brought the king to the moon. When going to the moon, the king was welcomed and given a big party by Jade Empera. He gave hundreds of beautiful fairies wearing brightly colored silk coats, holding pieces of white silk, both dancing and singing Nghe Thuong Vu Y Khuc in the yard. King Táng enjoyed it a lot; thanks to his musical aptitude, he learned by heart the song and the dance. Returning at the Royal Palace, he taught dancers to perform the dance and the song that he had learned; Mid-Autumn Festival was born from that. After its formation in China, Mid-Autumn Festival spread throughout Chinese colonies and the neighboring countries. Vietnamese history books did not say when the Mid-Autumn Festival started to happen; only know that hundreds of years ago, Vietnamese ancestors followed this custom.
According to legend, in the past, there were 3 gods disguised as poor old men to try on hearts of Fox, Monkey and Rabbit. Fox and Monkey gave them food, but Rabbit had nothing to give. However, because of his kindness, Rabbit said “Please eat me”, and then jumped into the fire. So touched by the Rabbit’s heart, the three gods took him to the moon. Since then, he has stayed there with Chang’e and crushed medicine for the gods daily.
This dish appeared 3,000 years ago, in the Shang Dynasty called Taishi. However, at the end of the Yuan Dynasty (the dynasty established by the Mongols 1271-1368), the people could not bear the dreadful rule of the court. Therefore, Zhou Yuanzhang, who later founded the Ming dynasty, united forces to rebel.
However, he was upset that he could not find a way to convey the message. At that time, his mentor Liu Bowen devised a scheme. They wrote down small papers the date for the uprising that was August 15th of the lunar calendar, placed them in the middle of round cakes and sent them as a gift to the army forces. The resistance was successful; Zhou Yuanzhang founded the Ming Dynasty. Since then, people have called the round cakes Moon Cake.
Activities at Mid-Autumn Festival in China
Watching the moon
The ancient Chinese had the custom of watching the moon at the Mid-Autumn Festival. Chinese historical documents also mentioned a lot about this issue. In the Tang Dynasty, the watching moon and playing moon at the night became popular. In the Song Dynasty, this custom developed much stronger. In the Ming, Qing dynasties, besides the custom of watching the moon, there are new customs such as dropping the flower Lamp, dancing dragon.
Eating Moon Cakes
On Mid-Autumn Festival, people offer ancestor moon cakes to show gratitude for birth and upbringing. They also present moon cakes to friends and relatives as happy and lucky wishes. At night, family members together eat moon cakes and drink tea happily.
Nowadays, there are places that specialize in manufacturing moon cakes. The artisans carefully study the nucleus and crust of the cake, so the moon cakes are increasingly diverse, delicate and elegant.
Sacrificing the moon
Legend has it that in ancient times, there was an ugly girl, but since childhood, she had prayed the moon very respectfully. When growing up, thanks to her outstanding talent, she was recruited into the palace, but she never got the king’s favor. Suddenly, on the full moon night of August, while the king went for a walk in the moonlight, he met the girl. Because of her unique beauty, he fell in love with her immediately, and then got married to her; she became Queen. The custom sacrificing the moon was born since then. The girls worship the moon mainly want to have pure beauty such as Chang’e, as white as the moon. On the ceremony table, there are a lot of things: moon cake, watermelon, apple, plum, grape and so on. In particular, moon cake and watermelon are two indispensable things. Watermelon must be trimmed into a lotus shape.
Flying Kongming Lanterns
Speaking of the Mid-Autumn Festival, people have to mention flying Kongming Lantern. Kongming Lantern usually has a large size, is stuck paper around and is lighted candles in the middle. After writing their wishes on the lanterns, people simultaneously released them into the sky. They illuminate a whole sky, bringing people’s requesting words to the gods.
Dropping flower lights
Dropping flower lights in the river at the Mid-Autumn Festival is very special for girls and children. They use oily paper to make lanterns having the shapes of lotuses, boats and so on, then light candles, drop into rivers or lakes. Before dropping the lanterns, they always pray the gods, expressing what they wish. They hope the lanterns would bring their wishes to the gods, and the gods would make them come true.
During the dragon dance, there are groups of people raising the dummies of dragons by the sticks. The dancers work in harmony with each other to show the flexible, winding movements of the powerful dragons. The dragon dance is considered a highlight in festivals in China as well as Chinese area around the world. People believe that dragons have power, wisdom and bring luck and prosperity to humans.