Moon Cake session time! Nom nom nom nom. With Mid Autumn Festival around the corner, it seems like a good time to share with you a bit more about this festival. When people think about Mid-Autumn festival, the first thing that comes to mind is probably moon cake and lighting lanterns, but what is meaning and history behind it?
A bit of history
China have a rich history in agriculture, it is still one of the most vital industry today. The ancient Chinese noticed the movement of the moon having direct correlation to the change of the seasons. To express their thanks to the moon and celebrate the harvest, they offer a sacrifice to the moon.
This custom started over 3500 years ago during the Zhou Dynasty. It is held during the Autumnal Equinox, where the moon is at its roundest and brightest. During this day, Emperors worshipped the moon goddess annually with a sacrificial ceremony in hopes for a good harvest that year.
This custom became more popular among the upper class in the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD), where big parties are held in the court to appreciate the moon. This custom slowly became more popular with common citizen, where they will pray for a good harvest that year.
However, the actual day of Mid-autumn festival, the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, wasn’t established until the Northern Song Dynasty. This day was set because it is calculated to be the closest full moon day.
Why do we eat Moon Cake?
There are different theories in why we eat moon cakes during Mid-Autumn festival. One of these theory is that Moon Cakes were the sacrificial offering to the moon, and we would eat them to celebrate. It is round, because it symbolises the moon and represent the reunion of family. This traditional is passed on today, where people give Moon Cakes to family and friends to wish them a long and happy life.
The second theory is that it is a reminder of the rebellion in overthrowing the Mongol dynasty (Yuen Dynasty) in 1271 – 1368 AD. During the Mongol rule, they would oppress and forbid Chinese subjects to gather in public in fear of a rebellion. Chinese subjects are not allowed any weapons and Mongol guards were posted outside their homes.
The rebel leader Zhu Yuanzhang and his confidant Liu Bowen, decided to plot the rebellion on Mid-Autumn festival and in order to spread the message they hid a message in the Moon Cake. As the Mongol does not eat Moon Cakes, the messages was only seen by the Chinese. The plan succeeded and the Ming Dynasty began.
Folklores and Legends
Have you ever wondered why on the Moon Cake packaging there is a woman on the moon or a rabbit hopping on the moon? They are images derived from the folklores and legends about the Mid-Autumn festival.
There are many different versions of folklores and legends about Mid-Autumn festival, but the one that we grew up with is Chang’E flying to the Moon. (嫦娥奔月 : cháng é bēn yuè) is probably one of the most famous one.
Legend goes that suddenly 10 suns appeared in the sky and it was killing all the crops and drying all the rivers on earth. A hero named Hou Yi appeared and with his great strength he shot down 9 of the suns. To award him for saving the people, the Jade Empress, a heavenly goddess, awarded Hou Yi the pill of immortality. However Hou Yi didn’t want to leave his wife Chang’E behind, so he didn’t take it. He took it home and told Chang’E about it and gave it to her for safe keeping. However, this was overheard by Hou Yi selfish apprentice Peng Meng who want to take it for himself.
So one day whilst Hou Yi was out hunting, he broke into the house and force Chang’E to give in the pill. Chang’E knows that she cannot over win this fight, but was worried about Peng Meng’s evil intensions. So instead of handing over the pill, she took it and she flew to the moon.
When Hou Yi got home and found out what happened, he was devastated. He ran out to the garden and called out for Chang’E. The moon then got brighter and a shadow appeared that looks like her. So Hou Yi when home and got Chang’E’s favourite fruits and made a sacrifice for her.
Some say that because of their love, every Mid-Autumn festival Hou yi can cross the milky way and get closer to Chang’E as the distance between them is closer because of the new moon.
The tradition of holding lanterns is because people on earth is lighting the way for Hou yi whilst he cross the Milky way and Chang’E knows where to look for him.
Which version were you told in your childhood?
The tradition of eating mooncakes during Mid-Autumn festival is still very popular today. During this long journey the mooncake have also been modernised and a lot of fusion mooncakes are now available in the market. Here are the ones that we found that are worth trying.
9 Mini Mochi Mooncakes in Taro, Osmanthus and Pomelo – HK$438.00
Sold in a set of four interesting different flavours – HK$580 each.
Kavalan Whisky Chocolate Mooncakes set of 3 – HK$ 468
From traditional to modern fusion mooncakes – from S$52.34
Snowskin Mooncake: Garden Collection in 4 floral flavours – S$72nett
So which one are you going to try this year? Let us know if you discover any amazing new mooncakes. We would love to know about it too. Happy Mid-Autumn festival everyone!
with love & quirks,
Iris & Chris