Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Mooncake Festival : Asia's Mid-Autumn Feast

In the Orient it is the moon that rules, with special occasions plotted on the lunar calendar. Thus the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the fifteenth day of the eighth moon. For 2015 this translates to September 27 or 28 in the solar or western calendar.

An assortment of moon cakes laid out prettily.

An important part of the festival celebration is moon worship.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as the Mooncake Festival. For millions of Chinese across Asia and around the world the Mid-Autumn Festival is a big deal and second only to Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations. 

Houyi helplessly looking at his wife Chang'e 
flying off to the moon after she drank the elixir.

Throughout the continent, it is a lavish celebration for all households and typically runs all week long with dancing, feasting and moon gazing. 

Events include the releasing of sky lanterns, dragon dancing and the age old tradition of eating lots and lots of moon cakes. 

The ubiquitous pastries come wrapped in a variety of wheat, rice or jelly crusts and are filled with everything from red bean paste, lotus seeds, almonds, egg yolk, minced meat, candied fruits, nuts or chocolate. 

There are literally hundreds of varieties found throughout the world and modern moon cakes can have rich fillings like black truffle, caviar and foie gras or can be stuffed with fun ingredients like Oreo crumbs and ice cream. 

Traditions and myths surrounding the festival are formed around celebrating these three fundamental concepts:

·   Gathering - family and friends coming together or harvesting crops for the festival
·   Thanksgiving - to give thanks for the harvest, a bountiful year, or harmonious unions
·   Praying - asking for conceptual or material satisfaction [such as babies, a spouse, beauty, longevity, a good future, etc.]

Offerings are also made to the popular lunar deity Chang'e known as the Moon Goddess of Immortality. The myths associated with Chang'e explain the origin of moon worship with one version of the story described in Lihui Yang's Handbook of Chinese Mythology:

In the ancient past, there was a hero named [Hou] Yi who was excellent at archery. His wife was Chang'e. One year, the ten suns rose in the sky together, causing great disaster to people. Yi shot down nine of the suns and left only one to provide light. An immortal admired Yi and sent him the elixir of immortality. Yi did not want to leave Chang'e and be immortal without her, so he let Chang'e keep the elixir. But Peng Meng, one of his apprentices, knew this secret. So, on the fifteenth of August in the lunar calendar, when Yi went hunting, Peng Meng broke into Yi's house and forced Chang'e to give the elixir to him. Chang'e refused to do so. Instead, she swallowed it and flew into the sky. Since she loved very much her husband and hoped to live nearby, she chose the moon for her residence. When Yi came back and learned what had happened, he felt so sad that he displayed the fruits and cakes Chang'e liked in the yard and gave sacrifices to his wife. People soon learned about these activities, and since they also were sympathetic to Chang'e they participated in these sacrifices with Yi. 

Chang'e, the Moon Goddess of Immortality

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