🌕 Moon-Related Autumn Celebration 🎑
The Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節), also known as the Moon Festival, Chinese Lantern Festival, Mooncake Festival or Zhongqiu Festival, is a popular lunar harvest festival celebrated by Chinese and Vietnamese people on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, which is in September or early October in the Gregorian calendar, close to the autumnal equinox. The Government of China listed the festival as an “intangible cultural heritage” in 2006, and it was made a Chinese public holiday in 2008. It is also a public holiday in Taiwan. Similar holidays have long been celebrated in numerous countries such as Japan (Tsukimi), Korea (Chuseok), Vietnam (Tết Trung Thu), and other countries in East and Southeast Asia, particularly Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. In 2022, the festival falls on the 10th of September.
Being one of the most important holidays in Chinese culture, the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節) is celebrated for one to three days, and is comparable in popularity to Chinese New Year, which is celebrated for up to fifteen days. The history of the Mid-Autumn Festival can be traced back over 3,000 years. In accordance with its long tradition, the festival is annually held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunisolar calendar with a full moon at night, corresponding to mid-September to early October of the Gregorian calendar. On this special day, the Chinese believe that the Moon is at its brightest and fullest, coinciding with harvest time in the middle of autumn. Lanterns of assorted sizes and shapes are carried and displayed as symbolic beacons that illuminate people’s path to prosperity and good fortune. Mooncakes, made from a rich pastry typically filled with a combination of sweet beans, egg yolk(s), nuts, meat and lotus-seed paste, are traditionally consumed as a delicacy or dessert during this festival. There are also plenty of specialty mooncakes to suit the tastes and palettes of gustatorily adventurous customers and connoisseurs, who are keen to savour mooncakes as novel confections made with mouth-watering ingredients.
Overall, the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節) is a coveted yearly occasion for (honouring the traditions of) family reunion (家庭團聚), moon appreciation (賞月), savouring mooncakes (品嚐月餅), guessing lantern riddles (猜燈謎), worshiping the moon (拜月), praying to the moon (向月祈禱), enjoying lion dance and dragon dance (享受舞獅和舞龍), visiting and gifting relatives and friends (拜訪和饋贈親友), shopping (逛街購物), going on a short trip (短途旅行), as well as lighting, hanging up, and sauntering with bright and colourful lanterns (用明亮多彩的燈籠點亮、掛起和漫步).
The Mid-Autumn Festival is traditionally based on the legend of a moon goddess, often depicted as an incomparable beauty dressed in a long and flowing costume, sometimes holding a rabbit. It is both notionally inspiring and fittingly endearing for a beloved person to be called “My Little White Rabbit (我的小白兔)” or “My Small Jade Bunny (我的小玉兔)” as a term of endearment, for according to the Chinese folklore connected to the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節), the mythological moon rabbit (月兔) 🐇, a symbol of selflessness, piety and sacrifice, is customarily portrayed as a constant companion of the moon goddess Chang’e (嫦娥), faithfully pounding the elixir of life for her.
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The festival celebrates three fundamental concepts that are closely connected:
- Gathering, such as family and friends coming together, or harvesting crops for the festival. It is said [that] the Moon is the brightest and roundest on this day [thus signifying] family reunion. Consequently, this is the main reason [as to] why the festival is thought to be important.
- Thanksgiving, to give thanks for the harvest, or for harmonious unions
- Praying (asking for conceptual or material satisfaction), such as for babies, a spouse, beauty, longevity, or for a good future
Traditions and myths surrounding the festival are formed around these concepts, although traditions have changed over time due to changes in technology, science, economy, culture, and religion. It’s about well being together.
Origins and development
The Chinese have celebrated the harvest during the autumn full moon since the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BCE). The term mid-autumn (中秋) first appeared in Rites of Zhou, a written collection of rituals of the Western Zhou dynasty (1046–771 BCE). As for the royal court, it was dedicated to the goddess Taiyinxingjun (太陰星君; Tàiyīn xīng jūn). This is still true for Taoism and Chinese folk religion.
The celebration as a festival only started to gain popularity during the early Tang dynasty (唐朝) (618–907 CE). One legend explains that Emperor Xuanzong of Tang started to hold formal celebrations in his palace after having explored the Moon-Palace.
In the Northern Song Dynasty, the Mid Autumn Festival has become a popular folk festival, and officially designated the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar as the Mid Autumn Festival.
By the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the mid autumn festival had become one of the main folk festivals in China. The Empress Dowager Cixi (late 19th century) enjoyed celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival so much that she would spend the period between the thirteenth and seventeenth day of the eighth month staging elaborate rituals.
🌕 Moon-Related Autumn Food 🥮
Mooncake (月餅) is a Chinese bakery product traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節). Mooncakes are typically offered between friends or on family gatherings while celebrating the festival, which is one of the four most important Chinese festivals. The tenet of the festival is about moon appreciation, lunar worship and moon watching, during which mooncakes are regarded as an indispensable delicacy or dessert, often accompanied by fine teas and cuisines on larger or more significant occasions. Mooncakes are usually made from a rich pastry whose fillings comprise a combination of sweet beans, egg yolk(s), nuts, meat and lotus-seed paste. At Delishably!, a platform for food enthusiasts and aficionados, Ced Yong has summarized in his informative article entitled “9 Facts About Chinese Mooncakes: History, Culture, Legends” as follows:
- Their History Goes Back 1000+ Years
- There Are Many Regional Variations
- They Are Linked to Chang’e, Goddess of the Moon
- They Are Associated With Rabbits
- They Symbolize Reunion and Are Popular Business Gifts
- Mooncakes Were an Instrument of Revolution
- They’re Not Exactly a Health Food
- They Are Big Business
- Avant-Garde Flavors Are Popping Up
In modern and affluent societies, there now exist plenty of specialty mooncakes catering to the refined tastes and adventurous palettes of avant-garde customers and connoisseurs, who derive enormous delight in savouring mooncakes as novel confections made with delectable ingredients, not just peanut butter, jelly, custard, tiramisù, gourmet honey, milk tea, coffee, icecream, durian, honeydew dry gin, strawberry vodka, orange whiskey and yuzu sake, but also lightly spiced XO-dried scallops; strawberry and soursop puree; blueberry with vintage rice wine; chocolate brownie with melon seed; creamy coconut durian mousse mochi; Nonya sweet-meets-savoury meat filling; mango yoghurt with lime margarita truffle; butterfly pea gin with pandan and lemongrass; pistachio cream with nibs and raspberry grains; assorted nuts and seeds with roast duck; Chicken bak-kwa baked with assorted nuts; white lotus paste and charcoal black sesame paste with pine nuts; sea salt caramel with taro and shredded coconut; black truffle sea salt dark chocolate with white lotus seed paste; dark chocolate shell filled with creamy pralines and a layer of crispy feuillantine; crunchy hazelnut croquant with chocolate lotus paste and hazelnuts wrapped in a chocolate skin; beef wellington with beef tenderloin, parma ham and duxelles; or salmon wellington with salmon fillet, cream cheese spinach, mozzarella cheese and parmesan, as the following five webpages depict:
Nowadays, the custom of business people and families presenting mooncakes to their clients or relatives as presents has fuelled a great demand for high-end mooncakes with exquisite design and elaborate packaging, even to the point of resembling large jewellery boxes or miniature treasure chests. Some of the latest trends have resulted in not just eye-catching, stylish, collectable packaging but also specially curated, multifuctional mooncake bags, boxes, trunks, gift sets, keepsakes, rechargeable tableside lanterns, and even the world’s first Monopoly Mooncake Street Smart Edition, as the following eight webpages amply show:
🌕 Moon-Related Autumn Poems 📜
As an evocative but concise vehicle frequently incorporating expressive folk influences filtered through the minds of Chinese literati, poetry has been unswervingly held in exceptionally high regard in Chinese culture since antiquity, insofar as poetry has facilitated a format and a forum for both public and private expressions of profound emotion, sentiment, contemplation, morality, philosophy and spirituality, offering a diverse audience of peers, readers and scholars vast insights into the inner sanctum and intimate life of Chinese writers unfolding via their finest penmanship across more than two millennia. To that extent, Westerners who are well-disposed to the aesthetic and literary aspects of oriental societies have discovered in Chinese poetry an engrossing and gratifying field of study via its exemplification of quintessential distinctions or defining contrasts between the occidental world and Chinese civilization, and also on its own terms and merits, so much so that Chinese poetry has bestowed considerable influence and contribution upon poetry worldwide.
Classical Chinese poetry is traditional Chinese poetry composed in Classical Chinese (also known as Literary Chinese 文言文 or 古文) and characterized by certain traditional forms, modes and genres in connection with or rooted in specific historical periods, such as the poetry of the Tang dynasty (唐朝) from 618 to 907, which is traditionally considered to be the greatest era for Chinese poetry. The map below depicts the six major protectorates during this dynasty (唐朝的六大都護府示意地圖).
A key aspect of Classical Chinese poetry is its potent inter-relationship with other forms of Chinese art such as Chinese painting and Chinese Calligraphy (書法). An example of the latter can be demonstrated by the following poem entitled Quiet Night Thought (靜夜思), composed by the acclaimed and prolific Tang dynasty poet by the name of Li Bai (李白), also known as Li Bo, courtesy name Taibai (Chinese: 太白), and art name Qinglian Jushi (Chinese: 青蓮居士).
Structured as a single quatrain in five-character regulated verse equipped with a simple AABA rhyme scheme, this famous and memorable poem alludes to the August moon and therefore the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節), which serves as a paramount festival in Chinese culture for its adherence to Chinese family values, and is traditionally associated with family reunion. In Quiet Night Thought (靜夜思), Li Bai not merely expresses his anguish and lament over the impossibility of securing the opportunity for a much overdue family reunion to strengthen his familial ties and to fulfil his filial piety when his is still on active duty as a courtier who is mandated to obey the imperial edict and to abide by the emperor’s wishes, but also stresses the importance of valuing one’s origin even if one is indefinitely precluded from reuniting with beloved family members, and tested by the long burden of enduring (the circumstance of) being deployed far from one’s hometown for extended periods as part of one’s duty and loyalty as a courtier or worthy subject to the emperor of China.
The Chinese quatrain of Li Bai’s Quiet Night Thought (靜夜思) above in five-character regulated verse with an AABA rhyme scheme has been translated by SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ into an English quatrain below with an ABAB rhyme scheme and a 9-10-9-10 syllabic pattern.
Multilingual translations of Li Bai’s poems continue to be made in the West, so much so that his life has even taken on a legendary aspect, including tales of drunkenness, chivalry and the well-known story that he drowned as a result of reaching from his boat to grasp the moon’s reflection in the river whilst being intoxicated.
SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ has taken the liberty and pleasure of translating three more Chinese poems into English for your enjoyment.
Translated by SoundEagle🦅ೋღஜஇ into English
The Original in Chinese
Drinking Alone under the Moon
Sun Pass Song