You may know by now that the annual Mid-Autumn Festival is just around the corner, whether it be because you have noticed the colourful lanterns emerging around Singapore, or because you have been recently inundated with invitations to mooncake parties. One of the most important festivals in Chinese culture, Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated on the 15thday of the eighth lunar month – which falls, this year, on 24th September.
A colourful affair centred around the moon, Mid-Autumn Festival is popular with adults and kids alike: revellers get to tote brightly lit lanterns and feast on deliciously sweet mooncakes. The Festival in Singapore has inevitably evolved over the years, with electrical lanterns shaped as popular cartoon characters rivalling the more traditional paper versions, and more and more places offering modern takes on mooncakes – think ice cream mooncakes and flavours like durian and coffee!
But how much do you really know about the origins behind these traditions? Our Origins of Chinese Festivals takes readers back to the very beginning, retelling two central myths in comic form: The Story of Chang-e and The Story of Mooncakes.
Image: Tsukioka Yoshitoshi via Wikimedia Commons
Chang-e was a heavenly being who was banished to earth with her husband, the archer Hou Yi. Buoyed by the admiration and worship of the humans, Hou Yi grew greedy and obtained the elixir of life from the Queen Mother of the West, planning to share it with Chang-e so that they could both dominate the human realm forever. Horrified by his vanity and pride, Chang-e drank the elixir by herself and gained the ability to fly to heaven.
Now alone – Hou Yi was soon slain by his treacherous disciple Feng Meng – Chang-e then flew to the moon with her pet rabbit to wallow in sorrow. To this day, kids try to find the shapes of Chang-e and her rabbit during Mid-Autumn Festival, when the moon is traditionally thought to be the brightest.
Image: Mk2010 via Wikimedia Commons
The second tale in Origins of Chinese Festivals is of how mooncakes came to be. The end of the Song Dynasty saw the Mongols ruling China, and stationing a soldier in each local household to control the people. In retaliation, the locals baked secret messages inciting rebellion inside round cakes, which were then passed around the households and cut open. The messages organised a collective uprising one night, and the locals successfully regained their freedom.
The eating of these cakes became a tradition during the Mid-Autumn Festival, and eventually evolved to become the mooncakes of today. The sweet pastries are round to symbolise completeness and reunion, and are eaten by families in the spirit of sweet harmony.
Today, Mid-Autumn Festival has moved far from its origins to become a modernised affair. Gardens by the Bay, for instance, is staging a fantastical lantern display this year, while a Festive Bazaar can be found in Chinatown and a Moonfest at the Esplanade. Nevertheless, as families and friends come together every year in celebration, we see the values of harmony and reunion captured by Origins of Chinese Festivals continue to underlie the festivities.