Mid-Autumn Festival History

Written by Sally Guo Updated Aug. 24, 2022

The Mid-Autumn Festival has a long history of over 3,000 years. It originated from the custom of worshipping the moon during the Zhou Dynasty (1046 - 256 BC).

The custom of the Moon Festival was mainly shaped in the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). It became popular after the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279). Nowadays, it's the second most important festival in China.

Mid-Autumn Festival Originated in the Zhou Dynasty (1046 to 256 BC)

The Mid-Autumn Festival originated from the worship of celestial phenomena. It evolved from the worship of the moon in autumn in ancient times.

Ancient Chinese emperors offered sacrifices to the moon in autumn to pray for a good harvest in the coming year. Later, nobles and officials followed it, and it gradually spread to the ordinary people.

The Earliest Written Record of "Mid-Autumn" Appeared in Han Dynasty (202 BC to 220 AD)

The term "Mid-Autumn" first appeared in the Confucian classic Rites of Zhou (周礼), written in the Han Dynasty(202 BC – 220 AD). It is a book outlining the rituals of the Zhou Dynasty.

At that time, the word "Mid-Autumn" was only related to the time and season, but not the festival.

Moon Festival Became an Official Festival in Tang Dynasty (618 to 907)

Tang Dynasty (618-907) is an important period for the Mid-Autumn Festival. The custom of it was mainly shaped in the Tang Dynasty.

The custom of admiring the moon at the Mid Autumn Festival was very popular at that time. Many poets wrote poems about it. People also combined the Moon festival with some legends like "Change over the Moon", making this festival full of romance.

tang people celebrate mid-autumn festival
Tang people travel to modern times to celebrate the Mid-autumn Festival

Fixed the Date of the Mid-Autumn Festival in the Song Dynasty (960 to 1279)

In the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), the 15th day of the 8th lunar month was established as the Mid-Autumn Festival. It became a popular folk festival.

The term "moon cake" first appeared in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279).

Only Ate Moon Cakes at the Mid-Autumn Festival since Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644)

It is said that the custom of eating moon cakes at the Mid-Autumn Festival began in the Tang Dynasty. In the Northern Song Dynasty, it was popular in the palace and later spread to the people. It became a common food custom for all people during the Ming Dynasty.

Since the Ming Dynasty, moon cakes were only eaten at the Mid-Autumn Festival, which was the main offering of moon sacrifice popular among the people.

Became Major Chinese Festival from Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 to 1912)

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), Mid Autumn Festival has become one of the main festivals in China, second only to the Chinese New Year.

There were more activities to celebrate this festival, such as playing clay rabbit and the married daughter going home to see her parents.

Moon Festival Became a Public Holiday in 2008.

Since 2008, Chinese in the mainland of China have had a 1-day break on the Mid-Autumn day. Combined with a weekend, people will have a 3-day holiday.

During the short break, people could enjoy a trip with families or friends, go back home, or watch the Mid-Autumn Festival Gala on TV.

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