This year Mid-Autumn Festival takes place on Thursday 1st October 2020. It celebrates what is said to be the fullest moon of the year – families typically come together to share the autumn harvest, eat mooncakes and light lanterns. The festival has a long history, with its origins in the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BCE).
Below is a short introduction to the history and customs of the festival, written by Ricefield volunteer Xiaochun Shen.
The Mid-Autumn Festival has a long lineage back to ancient celestial phenomenon worship, the custom of respecting the moon. In the autumn equinox (秋分) season of the 24 solar terms, it is the ancient Moon Festival, and the Mid-Autumn Festival comes from the traditional Moon Festival. The festival is held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar with a full moon at night, corresponding to mid-September to early October in the Gregorian calendar.
The Mid-Autumn Festival became an officially recognised national holiday, probably in the Tang Dynasty. During the Tang Dynasty, the customs of the Mid-Autumn Festival became popular, and the custom of admiring the moon was combined with myths and stories such as Chang’e Flying to the Moon and Yang Guifei Turning into the Moon God.
The Mid-Autumn Festival brings together families for a yearly reunion. On the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, all families will appreciate the moon and eat moon cakes.
Worshipping the moon
Worshipping the moon is an old Chinese custom, which can be traced to the ancients worshipping the the Moon God. Since ancient times, in some areas of Guangdong, people have worshipped the moon god on the night of Mid-Autumn Festival. The whole family will worship the moon in turn, praying for blessings.
On the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, there is a custom of lighting up lanterns to complement the moonlit scene. Every family uses bamboo sticks to make lanterns more than ten days before the festival. Various lanterns are made to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Moon cakes were offered in ancient times as part of the Mid-Autumn Festival worship. Moon cakes symbolise family reunion and in present day have become a festive food of Mid-Autumn Festival.