Traditions about Mid-Autumn Festival in China
As one of the most important traditional Chinese festivals, the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, September 24 this year.
It takes its name from the fact that it is always celebrated in the middle of the autumn season. The day is also known as the Moon Festival, as at that time of the year the moon is at its roundest and brightest.
This day is also considered a harvest festival since fruit, vegetables and grain have been harvested by this time.
It is an evening celebration where families gather together to light lanterns, eat mooncakes and appreciate the round moon. The full moon is a symbol for family reunion, which is why that day is also known as the Festival of Reunion.
The Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations date back more than 2,000 years. The word “Mid-Autumn” first appeared in the famous ancient book Zhou Li (The Zhou Rituals, a book telling the rituals in the Zhou Dynasty). However, it was not until the early Tang Dynasty (618-907) that the day was officially celebrated as a traditional festival. It became an established festival during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), and has become as popular as the Spring Festival since the Ming and Qing dynasties
(1368-1911). Celebrations have continued ever since and more customs for marking this occasion have been formed.
In feudal times, Chinese emperors prayed to Heaven for a prosperous year. They chose the morning of the 15th day of the second lunar month to worship the sun and the night of the 15th day of the eighth lunar month to hold a ceremony in praise of the moon. In the Xicheng district of Beijing is the Yuetan Park, which originally was the Temple of Moon, and every year the emperor would go there to offer a sacrifice to the moon.
The Chinese government listed the festival as intangible cultural heritage in 2006. It was made a public holiday in 2008.
Since then, Mid-Autumn Festival has been the second grandest festival in China after Chinese New Year. It’s a time when families come together to appreciate the full moon and eat mooncakes during the festival. In fact, besides these two traditions, there are many others.
The following are the traditions you may know about Mid-Autumn Festival in China.
1. Worshiping the moon
Since ancient times, there has been a tradition of worshiping the moon in
Mid-Autumn Festival in China, which stems from the deification of the moon by the ancients.
On that day, people put the “god of the moon” sign, peaches, watermelons, moon cakes and other offerings on a table at home or outdoors, and then knelt down and kowtowed one by one, praying for blessings from the “god of the moon”.
Nowadays, this tradition is disappearing. It’s rare to see families worshiping the moon in big cities. In some old towns or tourist cities, people will hold a ceremony to worship the moon in a square, park, or street, but this is more like a performance.
2. Watching the tide
In ancient times, watching the tide on the Qiantang River in East China’s Zhejiang province was another grand event of Mid-Autumn Festival. The tide is very torrent island magnificent and attracts many onlookers.
It had been recorded in detail since the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220). Many famous ancient poets, like Sushi in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), wrote about the grand
occasion in their poems.
Today, watching the tide on the Qiantang River is still a characteristic event for the festival.
3. Making colorful lanterns
On the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, the sky is clear as water, and the moon is full and bright like a mirror. People usually make colorful lanterns to decorate the beautiful night.
They make the lanterns in different shapes to be hung on trees or houses, or floated on rivers. Park personnel will hang up colorful lanterns, which provide a beautiful scene at night.
They also make Kongming lanterns, which can fly because the burning candles heat the air in the lantern. Children write good wishes on the lanterns and let them fly up into the sky.
4. Burning pagodas
In some places, burning pagodas during the Mid-Autumn Festival is another tradition.
When night falls, people gather together in an empty place, and pick up broken bricks and tiles to pile up several pagodas, large and small. The pagodas are hollow and are stuffed with firewood.
When all the pagodas are built up, someone will shout, “Ignite the fire!” Then, the fire wood in the pagodas is lit, and the red flames rise and sparks explode, through which people express the joy of harvest in autumn.
5. Playing clay rabbit
The clay rabbit is a traditional handicraft in Beijing at Mid-Autumn Festival. Based on an image of the Jade Rabbit from the story of Chang’e in the Moon Palace, a clay rabbit is personalized and made in an artistic form.
Some people imitate opera characters and carve the rabbit in a stylized way, such as a warrior with a golden helmet and armor, riding lions, elephants and other beasts of prey, or some riding peacocks, cranes and other birds.
The rabbit figure once was an offering to worship the moon, but later, it became a popular children’s toy.
6. Stealing vegetables
Among the Dong ethnic group in Central China’s Hunan province, it is the custom for young ladies to steal vegetables on Mid-Autumn Festival night.
There is a legend that during the Mid-Autumn Festival, the fairy in the Moon Palace will go down to the human world to spread sweet dew on the vegetables. Who ever eats vegetables with sweet dew on this night will be healthy and happy.
Also, women and girls express their adoration to their favorite young men by this way.
7. Eating river snails
People believe that eating river snails in the Mid-Autumn Festival can make the eyes clear. River snails are rich in vitamin A, which is an important substance in visual pigments.
Around the festival, there are no small river snails in the abdomens of larger river snails. Therefore, their meat is especially fat and delicious. It is the best time to eat river snails.
Nowadays, many families in Guangzhou eat fried river snails during the festival.
8. Drinking Osmanthus-flavored wine
Osmanthus flowers open and spread a sweet scent in autumn. Osmanthus-flavored wine is a gift during this season.
Osmanthus fragrance is a symbol of prosperity and auspiciousness. Drinking Osmanthus fragrance wine at Mid-Autumn Festival implies sweetness, wealth and auspiciousness, and prosperity of the family.
People gather together to appreciate the moon in which Wu Gang, who chases Chang’e, is cutting a sweet-scented Osmanthus tree outside the Moon Palace,
according to a legend. They drink the sweet Osmanthus-flavored wine to echo the festival atmosphere.
Nowadays, some traditional customs are disappearing in China, and the younger generation have their own ways to spend the Mid-Autumn Festival, such as shopping, going to a party, or traveling, seemingly forgetting the traditional customs of the festival.
This is because many in the post-80s and 90s generations are working and studying in other cities and some of them have many pressures in life.
However, if they had chance, they would come back home to have a reunion dinner with their families.