The mid-autumn festival (中秋节) is an important Chinese holiday. It is celebrated every year on the 15th day of the 8th month on the lunar calendar. On the Gregorian calendar, it falls on a full moon near the autumn equinox in September or early October. The mid-Autumn festival this year is Thursday, September 15th. The festival has its origins in ancient harvest celebrations and moon worship.
Here are four ways you can celebrate the mid-autumn festival:
1. Read the Legend
There is a traditional legend about the festival. There are different versions, but here is the version I was told as a child:
A long time ago, the sun god had ten children. Each day one of the children would take turns lighting the sky. One day when the sun got was away, all of the children went out to play together. Their combined light was too strong, and it scorched the Earth. Plants, animals, and people were dying. An archer named Hou Yi (后羿) climbed to a high mountain and shot down all but one of the children. As a reward, he was given the elixir of immortality. Before Hou Yi had a chance to drink the potion, his wife Chang E (嫦娥) took it. The potion caused Chang E to fly up to the moon. When she landed the elixir fell out of her mouth and became a rabbit. Chang E and the rabbit remain on the moon to this day.
How to celebrate: Check out different versions of Hou Yi and Chang E legend. Which version do you like best? Was Hou Yi a good man? Why did Chang E take the elixir? And where did that frog come from?
2. Eat Mooncakes
Chinese people celebrate the mid-autumn festival in many ways. Families gather to share a meal and children light lanterns. The most famous tradition is eating mooncakes.
Mooncakes are a type of small round pastry. They are available with different fillings, including nuts, red bean paste, lotus seed paste, meat, or salted duck egg. Traditionally, mooncakes were made at home. In modern times, very few people make their own mooncakes. Instead, people prefer to buy fancy mooncake gift boxes to give as presents. Mooncakes are said to have played an important role in Chinese history. During the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368) China was run by invading Mongolian forces. It is rumored that the Yuan Dynasty was overthrown when Chinese rebels hid messages in mooncakes calling for an uprising that began on the mid-autumn festival.
How to celebrate: Mooncakes are available this time of year at all Chinese grocery stores and bakeries. You can even order them on online. See if you can find your favorite flavor. My favorite are the salted duck egg mooncakes, but they are an acquired taste!
3. Admire the Moon
On the mid-autumn festival, people thank the moon for her light. In some parts of China, the moon is personified as the Moon Spirit (月神) or the Moon Lady (月姑娘). She represents the moon itself. This is different from Chang E, who just lives there. Families would build an altar in the moonlight and make offerings. Because of the moon’s powerful Yin energy, only the women in the family would take part in this ritual.
Daoists celebrate the mid-autumn festival as the birthday of a deity called the Heavenly Ruler of Great Yin (太阴星君). In each temple, an altar would be set up with her image or a wooden placard with her name carved into it. Incense, mooncakes, and 3 or 5 plates of fruit offerings are placed on the table. In some temples, other things like rice, oil, alcohol, and tea are given as offerings.
How to celebrate: Find a spot where you can admire the full moon. You can climb a mountain alone, or find a rooftop patio where you can drink wine in the moonlight with friends. Enjoy the light the moon provides.
4. Boost your Yin energy
For some people, the mid-autumn festival is an opportunity for healing. If your body has deficient Yin energy (red eyes, fast pulse, dry skin, cough, constipation, restless sleep, anger, and anxiety) you can balance your energy during the mid-autumn festival.
How to Celebrate: Practice qigong in the moonlight to absorb the healthy Yin energy. Here’s a simple practice to try:
Stand in the moonlight, facing the moon, feet hip width apart
Breathing In – Raise your arms up, palms facing the moon as if you were giving her a hug. Breathe in the moonlight and feel it absorb through your skin.
Breathing out – Bring your arms down in front of your body. With your mind’s eye, see the moonlight entering every cell, filling your body with calm, cool Yin energy.
Repeat for as long as feels good.
Have you ever celebrated the mid-autumn festival? Did you try any of the practices I mention in this blog post? Leave a comment and let me know.