Happy Mid-Autumn Festival from Cultural Keys!

You know autumn is approaching when mooncakes start appearing in the shops! But do you know the legend behind the festival and why moon cakes are eaten at the Mid-Autumn Festival?

Read on to find out more!

Sunday the 19th of September is Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节 Zhōngqiū jié) in China! To celebrate the festival, families get together and enjoy eating mooncakes (月饼 yuèbǐng) and drinking tea… and they may even get to gaze at the full moon if the skies are clear enough!

September 19th is the 15th day of the 8th month in the lunar calendar. Why that date?  On that day in legend, a great love story happened… the story of Chang’E and Hou Yi.  At that time, long long ago, the world was scorched by ten suns.  Hou Yi was an archer and he saved the world by shooting down nine of the suns, leaving just the one we still have today.  As a reward, the Queen Mother of the West gave him an immortality potion.  

A picture of Chang’E on a mooncake gift box

Hou Yi didn’t take it immediately, however, and his apprentice Feng Meng broke into his home to try and steal it.  Hou Yi’s wife, Chang’E was at home at the time, and to stop Feng Meng stealing the potion she drank it herself and, becoming immortal, was transported into the sky.  

In order to stay as close as possible to Hou Yi, Chang’E decided to live on the moon.  Every year on the anniversary of these events, heartbroken Hou Yi would lay out Chang’E’s favourite treats and cakes and look up at the moon, missing his wife.  

Despite the link to cakes in the legend, eating mooncakes on the Mid-Autumn Festival didn’t become common until the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368).  Now they are closely connected with the holiday and can be found everywhere from late August onwards.

Traditional wooden moulds used to make mooncakes

There are many different types of mooncake, with both different pastry crusts and different fillings, both traditional (such as red bean paste) and modern (such as chocolate).  Mooncakes with a whole egg yolk in the middle are particularly popular, as the yolk looks like the moon. The circle is an important shape in Chinese culture, as it symbolises unity, another theme of the festival, when the whole family would traditionally gather together. The name of the bakery and the filling is often baked into the top of the crust using a mould, and surrounded by decorative patterns.  You can now find mochi-style mooncakes, ice mooncakes and ice cream mooncakes in larger cities! You can buy mooncakes both individually and in beautifully designed gift boxes in supermarkets and bakeries. It’s common for them to be given as gifts, for example, a company might send valued clients a box of expensive mooncakes at this time of year. 

Mooncakes for sale in a Beijing supermarket

If you’re vegetarian, please check the ingredients of mooncakes carefully before you buy, as many contain animal products such as gelatin.  Unfortunately, almost all commercially-produced mooncakes also contain dairy products so will not be suitable for vegans. If you find any vegan mooncakes out there, please let us know!

How are you celebrating the festival? What’s your favourite mooncake flavour? Let us know in the comments below. We always love hearing your thoughts and insights! 

Photo Credits
– Cultural Keys

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