Chinese culture is steeped in intricacies and wonderful tales, and with a 4000-year history, there are bound to be some stories that are more memorable than others. This is the case with the Chinese Moon Festival – an annual tradition that has been held for thousands of years, since the Zhou Dynasty (1045 – 221 BC) – and which became a national public holiday in 2008. Today, families and loved ones gather together to celebrate the start of fall, the fruits of the fall harvest, and the beauty and significance of the moon. As with all traditions, the Chinese Moon Festival is based on some legends, which are told to children today who listen with awe. Want to find out what these legends are and how this festival is celebrated in China today? Keep reading to find out more!
The love story
Legend has it that there was once a couple who loved each other very deeply. Chang’e was a beautiful woman and Hou Yi, her husband, was a very skilled archer. Despite their love, the presence of 10 suns in the sky made life unbearable for the people on Earth. That’s why one day, Hou Yi, the skilled archer that he was, took aim at nine of the suns and brought each one of them down. This created a much better place for all people to live in. To thank him for his kind deed, one of the gods offered Hou Yi the elixir of life, but there was only enough of this potion for one person. One day, when Hou Yi wasn’t at home, one of his bad students came to his house. Confronted with this trickster, Chang’e drank the elixir to prevent it from getting into the wrong hands and, as a result, she transcended to the moon, becoming a moon goddess. In her memory, Hou Yi made round mooncakes to honor her and that’s one of the reasons these treats are made and eaten during this festival.
The story about hard work
Another story also related to the moon goes back years ago when Wu Gang displeased the Emperor of Heaven. Wu Gang was not a hardworking person, but he wanted to be immortal nevertheless. Displeased with his laziness, the Emperor of Heaven planted a cherry bay on the moon and told Wu Gang that if he would chop it down, he would become immortal. As hard as Wu Gang tried, and he certainly was persistent this time, the cherry bay kept on growing back and thus he could never achieve immortality. That’s why according to legend, there’s a shadow on the moon to this day, representing the cherry bay that Wu Gang could never chop down.
The story of self-sacrifice
The last legend, beloved by children, is the story of self-sacrifice. In this legend, the Emperor of Heaven wanted to test the virtues of three animals living in a forest: a fox, a monkey, and a rabbit. He came down to Earth disguised as an old man and approached the three animals, telling them that he was hungry and asking if they could offer him something to eat. The fox hunted and brought a fish, while the monkey searched the forest and brough fruit. Meanwhile, the rabbit hadn’t collected anything. When it came time to eat, the rabbit told the old man that he could eat him and jumped into the fire. To honour the rabbit’s self-sacrifice, the Emperor of Heaven took the rabbit’s bones and said he would take them to the Moon Palace, where he would be honoured forever.
Current practices and celebrations
These three stories are heartwarming and lovely, but so are the traditions that surround the Chinese Moon Festival. Let’s take a look at some of the most common practices that celebrate the moon and the middle of fall in China.
Spending time with family or traveling
What was once a tradition where Emperors and Kings gazed at the moon and held celebrations in honor of it, is today a three to seven day holiday celebrated by most Chinese people and communities in China, Southeast Asia and elsewhere around the world. It’s viewed as a family holiday where relatives gather together to spend time with each other, exchange gifts, and enjoy delicious food, including mooncakes. In addition, because of the few days off that Chinese people enjoy, many of them have taken to traveling in order to get away from their busy lives for a couple of days.
Unsurprisingly, in order to honor the moon, mooncakes are a traditional food enjoyed in China and beyond by young and old alike. Since these are such popular treats, their prices go rather high and can at times cost even more than an iPhone!
Gift giving is a popular tradition and money given in red envelopes with a short message is usually highly appreciated by the recipients. In addition, by giving money in three of the same numbers such as 666 or 888 is considered exceptionally good luck and could lead to wealth and fortune.
Often made by young children at school with the help of their teachers, flying lanterns and releasing them in the night sky is another popular tradition of the Chinese Moon Festival. Beautiful to look at, some people write wishes on their lanterns before releasing them, the equivalent of making a wish upon a star! In other places, such as Hong Kong and the Philippines, there are also dragon festivals to celebrate this holiday.
Enjoy the fullness of the Chinese Moon Festival
No matter what age you are, whether an adult or a child, the excitement that surrounds the Chinese Moon Festival is palpable. A wonderful tradition that is filled with gratitude, family time, amazing food, and so much more, this makes for a memorable experience that will stay with one for years to come. If you find yourself in China during this period, we would like to wish you a happy Moon Festival and extend our warmest, heartfelt wishes for a healthy, prosperous, and wonderful year ahead!