Moon Festival: Legends, Traditions, Moon Cakes

The Moon Festival (also known as Mid-Autumn Festival) is the second most important day on the Chinese lunar calendar. The holiday is observed by many Asian countries including China, Taiwan, Vietnam (called Tet Trung Thu), Singapore and the two Koreas. The Moon Festival usually takes place some time after the early fall harvest (September/October in the Gregorian calendar). 

The original purpose of the Mid-Autumn Festival was to celebrate the end of the harvest season. But unlike similar fall events such as Germany’s Oktoberfest, the Moon Festival carries a profound symbolic meaning that makes it very important to all Asian people. The Moon Festival is a celebration of maternal bonding and family. On that day, friends and family (no matter where they live in the world) gather for one special reunion dinner. Delicacies to be served include traditional dishes such as round dumplings and sweet soups. 

The night ends with the viewing of the majestic moon, accompanied by special servings of moon cakes. It should be noted that the festival almost always coincides with the year’s fullest and brightest moon, and this was how the name “Moon Festival” came about. 

Nothing is more synonymous with the moon festival than the moon cake. People buy moon cakes both to consume and to offer them to friends and loved ones. In fact, it is a holiday tradition to give friends and colleagues moon cakes (in boxes) as gifts. Featured quite prominently on most moon cake boxes is a drawing of the moon fairy and her faithful pet, Jade Rabbit. Both of these characters play key roles in various legends associated with the moon festival. 

According to legends, the moon fairy was originally a mortal named Chang’e. One time, she accidentally swallowed a magic pill which enabled her to become an immortal. Since immortals can’t reside on the earth, Chang’e left her family and home for the moon and is staying there indefinitely. But life at the moon palace is a lonely and depressing one. In hope of easing her homesickness, the other immortals decided to give the lonely Chang’e a magical companion called the Jade Rabbit. From that time on, the two have never been apart. 

In Vietnam, the Moon Festival is also the country’s Children Day. On that day, Vietnamese children parade around the neighborhood wearing festive clothing. Each child carries a uniquely shaped lantern and greets each other with words of best wishes and of good luck. The tradition is not unlike that of Halloween in the United States, but is without the “trick or treat” part. 

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