Moon gazing – Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival

Moon gazing – Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival

01 November 2013

Today we celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. Originating in Greater China and also celebrated Vietnam and in Chinese communities in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, the festival is held on the 15th day of the 8th month in the lunar calendar during a full moon. Here’s a quick Asia House guide to help you expand your cultural awareness of this celebration and its significance in part of Asia.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is a public holiday in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. In Vietnam it is the second most important national celebration after Tet (the lunar new year), where it has evolved from a celebration to divine the future of the harvest to a day focused on fertility and abundance for harvests, livestock and babies. By the early 20th century, the festival had a firm identity as a children’s festival.

Moon gazing is a traditional way to mark the festival – a symbol of completeness and unity, both concepts that are important in Chinese and Vietnamese culture. Confucian scholars would take the time to admire the moon, drink wine and recite poetry. Worshipping the moon and offering gifts of food and incense in the hope of an abundant harvest and fertile land (and women) was very traditional, and still practised. The contemporary celebration includes taking time to look at the moon as a family, and to eat the aptly-named mooncakes. Carrying lanterns or releasing sky lanterns into the night are also commonplace.

Mooncakes are a traditional symbol of the festival, with the round shape symbolising unity. Historically mooncakes were made at home. You’ll see from this recipe that it’s a fiddly process that involves a special mould to give the cakes their distinctive appearance.

Unsurprisingly, the modern custom is to buy mooncakes to give to family, colleagues and business associates. The gesture is still intended to represent unity. This year, the Chinese Government has forbidden Public Officials from giving and receiving mooncakes as part of its clampdown on corruption.

The Festival has also been a time to celebrate weddings and to carry out match-making activity. Young women would pray to Chang’e, the moon goddess of immortality, for assistance in achieving their romantic aims.

The British Council has created this lovely guide for schools  with lesson and assembly plans to help children learn more about the Mid-Autumn Festival. Pass it on to your local school, or use it at home with the little people in your life.