In my time with VIPKID, I have taught a LOT of lessons about the difference between American and Chinese cultures, and some units focus in more specifically on the differences between our countries’ holidays. One of the biggest celebrations in China is the Mid-Autumn Festival. As the name suggests, this holiday happens in the middle of Autumn, lining up with a full moon and harvest.
How do people celebrate this festival?
Like with any good holiday, the Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated with food, of course! A small, round, very dense pastry called a mooncake is sold and exchanged as a gift. Now, while I usually advocate for trying all traditional foods at least once, this is one I wouldn’t push you to taste. They’re deceptively beautiful little creations, and I imagine they take a lot of time to make. Even most of my students say they don’t like them, which is so funny and confusing to me.
Chinese tradition has a special place for the moon, as full moons symbolize times for family gatherings. Family dinners with dumplings and rice cakes are the usual celebration for this holiday, and thanks to modern transportation it is becoming more common to make small family trips over the holiday to visit extended family and friends. It is so fun to see the gifts my students show off from their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles after each holiday vacation. Or even more likely, I get to meet the family in the middle of the lesson!
How long ago did this tradition start?
Clear back in the Zhou Dynasty (1045-221BC) a practice of worshipping the moon was spread among the people of China. They would pray and give offerings to the moon in hope of receiving a good harvest through the next year.
Then moon gazing became a thing. It sounds very Hollywood to me, but I picture balcony parties under the full moon with all the highest level officials of China drinking wine and admiring the moon together.
Eventually someone brought a fancy mooncake to a fancy moon party during the Mongol reign. Now I’m no fan of mooncakes, as mentioned before, so I can imagine why some people started using them to pass along anti-Mongol messages using the treats.
Finally, it became a national holiday. However, in recent years a lot of the hype has died back down and its just a day without work and school where families can gather – and no moon worship is involved.
What legends are told about the moon?
I was only aware of one such legend – the popular Chang’e legend. But I came across this website that has so much more fun information and legends that you can find about the Mid-Autumn Festival and other Chinese traditions! CLICK HERE
The Legend of Chang E describes a time long ago when ten suns used to shine, causing a blistering heat across the Earth that was almost intolerable for people. An archer name HouYi wanted to fix this problem for everyone, so he took his bow and arrows and shot down nine of the suns! With only one sun in the sky, the Earth was much cooler. As a reward for his heroism, HouYi received the elixir of immortality. He did not want to be immortal without his lovely wife, Chang’e, so he gave the elixir to her for safekeeping. Unfortunately, while HouYi went hunting his apprentice, Fengmeng, broke in to steal the elixir. Rather than allow him to take away the elixir, Chang’e drank it herself. Now immortal, Chang’e flew to the moon where she could be somewhat close to look over her husband. HouYi was distraught when he learned what had happened and where Chang’e had gone, so he would often set out her favorite cakes and pray to the moon where his wife now lives.
Hopefully this gives you a few ideas of how you can celebrate the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival! If you would like to download “The Legend of Chang’e” comic strip, just sign up below! You’ll receive access to all of my free documents as well as monthly newsletters with more fun cultural activities!