Mid-Autumn Festival traditions focus on the theme of thanksgiving and reunion, as the full moon symbolizes unity, which should resonate strongly in today’s fast-paced world. The most common traditions for the festival are eating moon cakes and gazing at the moon. Besides, ethnic minorities across China have their own unique customs.
Here’s how you can slow life down to enjoy the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival during your tour of China. Do what Chinese people do, to explore the broad and profound Chinese culture!
1. Appreciate the Bright Full Moon
Admiring the Bright Full Moon
A bright, full moon is the symbol of family reunion, reminding people of their home towns and loved ones. Gazing at the Moon is an ancient tradition dating back to the Zhou dynasty (around 500 BC), when people held ceremonies to welcome the full moon.
In the modern world, after a family reunion dinner, some people choose to go outdoors to appreciate the moon on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Good places for appreciating the moon are parks and squares.
2. Reunite with Your Family
Attending a grand family dinner is not a part of daily life for most Chinese. During the festival, family members, no matter how far from home, will try their best to go back home and get together with their parents and extended family.
This is much like Thanksgiving in the United States. And the traditional way to enjoy this time is by sharing a fantastic meal together.
Pumpkins, chestnuts, taro, persimmons, sweet potato, walnuts, and mushrooms usually feature in the festival feast, emphasizing the bounty of the fall harvest, along with traditional celebratory foods like crab, pork, and duck. Besides, round foods like moon cakes also feature in the festival dishes.
3. Eat Moon Cakes
Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as the Moon Cake Festival. The cakes, typically round, symbolizing the full moon, are presented as gifts to acquaintances and friends. The tradition of moon cakes can be traced back to the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279 BC), even though, at that time, the moon cakes were not round.
Chinese moon cakes are small baked cakes, made with a variety of fillings like salted duck eggs, bean paste, lotus seeds, fruit, and sometimes even meat. A cup of Chinese tea or osmanthus-flavored wine along with moon cakes is a match made in heaven.
As early as August, moon cakes, some of which are overpriced, start to appear on the shelves of local bakeries. Never mind, choose China Travel and free moon cakes will be awaiting you!
4. Light and Display Chinese Mid-Autumn Lanterns
Lighting Mid-Autumn Lanterns
One of the interesting Mid-Autumn Festival customs is hanging up lanterns, made from bamboo strips shaped like fruit and birds. Children are particularly fond of making their own traditional lanterns. When darkness falls, locals place candles inside the lanterns and hang them outside. It is said that the higher the lanterns are hung, the luckier the family will be.
Every year, lantern carnivals and exhibitions are held in parks and other public places, during which lanterns of various colors, patterns and styles are on display.
5. Enjoy Fiery Dragon Dances
Traditional lion dances and dragon dances are an important part of many Chinese cultural and religious celebrations.
A team of dancers carries a long dragon on poles. By moving the poles, the dancers can make the dragon sway and weave. When dragon dances are held on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, the dragon’s body is illuminated from within by lanterns or candles.
6. Watch the Tidal Bore
In Zhejiang Province in the east of China, watching the tidal bore ranks as a great event in celebration of the Moon Festival. The custom dates back to the Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), and the activity enjoyed great popularity during the Song dynasty (960–1279).
The great Qiantang Tide in Haining of Zhejiang, which is a spectacular natural wonder, boasts a tidal range of about 8.5 meters, from the 15th day to the 20th day of the 8th lunar month. Thus, the Mid-Autumn Festival period is a perfect time for watching the Qiantang Tide.
7. Various Traditions Across Different Parts of China
In Fujian Province
In Pu city of Fujian, women should cross the Nanpu Bridge to pray for long life. In Jianning, people light lanterns to pray to the moon for their babies. In Shanghang County, children have to get down on their knees when they worship the moon.
Parents in Long Yan, while eating a moon cake, will dig a small hole in the center of the cake, which means that some secrets should be kept from their children.
In Guangdong Province
In Chaoshan, women and children worship the moon. When night comes, they burn joss sticks before a table bearing fresh fruit as a sacrifice. That night they eat taros, for two reasons. One is that August is the best time to eat ripe taros, and the other comes from a story.
In 1279 the Mongols defeated the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279 AD) and established the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368 AD), ruling over the Han Chinese with some cruelty.
At that time, a well-known general called Ma Fa held out in Chaozhou to fight against the Mongols. When he failed, most citizens were killed. Because the Chinese word for taros and Mongols were similar, from then on people ate taros to prove that they would always remember the pain. Eating taros was symbolic of eating the heads of the Mongols.
South of the Yangtze River Valley
In Nanjing people do not just eat moon cakes, they also eat another famous dish called Guihua Duck. This dish is only cooked on Mid-Autumn Day, partly because it is cooked with osmanthus flowers, which blossom in August.
In Wuxi of Jiangsu Province, people like to burn joss sticks to celebrate the festival. The burned joss sticks are wrapped in tulle (lightweight, very fine netting) with beautiful paintings of the Moon Palace or Chang'e.
In Ji'an County of Jiangxi Province, local people fire pottery jars using straw and vinegar, so that the smell of the vinegar spreads all over the villages. In Xincheng County, people celebrate the festival by lighting oil lamps from the 11th day to the 17th day of the 8th lunar month.
In Sichuan Province
People prepare a lot of food like moon cakes, duck meat, glutinous rice cakes, and rice dumplings. In some places, people light orange lamps, or ask children to run through the streets carrying pomelos in their hands, decorated with burning incense.
In Jiading, people worship the god of the land and perform some local dramas to celebrate the festival.
In the North
On Mid-Autumn Day people of Qingyun County in Shandong Province worship the god of the land, as well as their ancestors. In Lu’an of Shanxi province, parents invite their sons-in-law to have dinner with them.
In Xixiang county of Shanxi Province, men usually go boating or climb mountains together, while women stay at home and prepare dinner. In Luochuan County, parents send gifts to their children's teachers to express gratitude.
Though different places have different customs to celebrate this special day, people share the common desire for reunion, happiness, safety, health and good harvest.
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