Happy Mid-Autumn Festival

When I was young, I used to believe that mooncakes were made in the shape of moons, and designed and coloured to look like moons. What I never found out was whether they tasted like moons. How was I to know? I never landed on the moon before. Neither did I take a bite out of the moon. So how is it possible that mooncakes are even related to the moon? Because this festival is known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Mooncake Festival or Moon Festival. Depending on which Chinese fairytale you were told as a child.

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Plain mooncake by the Tai Thong group. Photo by SQ Lee Photography.

As the Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as the Moon Festival, many of its legends are often related to the moon. There have been a number of ancient Chinese folklore stories that have been told time and time again to children. But there is one particular Chinese fairytale that stands out from the many stories that were told.

The Legend of Chang E

The story of Chang E is perhaps the most widely accepted tale regarding the moon and the origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

During the ancient times, there were ten suns in the sky and the intense heat caused the harvest to wither and dry up, as a result, the people’s lives suffered. The Emperor ordered Hou Yi to shoot down nine of the ten suns in the sky. Owing to Hou Yi’s great strength, he shot down nine suns and became the hero of the town. Upon hearing this amazing feat and the hero who performed it, people came far and wide to learn from him. Peng Meng was among these people who came to see this spectacular hero. Later, Hou Yi married a beautiful and kind-hearted woman named Chang E and lived a happy life.

One day, Hou Yi came upon Wangmu (the Queen of Heaven) on the way to meet his old friend. Wangmu presented him with an elixir that would allow him to ascend immediately to heaven and become a god. Instead of drinking the potion, Hou Yi took it home and kept it. Unfortunately, Peng Meng had seen the potion that Hou Yi had kept. He approached Chang E while Hou Yi was away and demanded that she hand over the elixir. Chang E refused and drank the elixir. Almost immediately after drinking it, she flew out the window and up into the sky. Chang E’s great love for her husband Hou Yi drew her towards the Moon, which is located nearest to Earth, and she became a goddess.

After he learnt what had happened to his wife, Hou Yi was so aggrieved that he shouted her name to the sky and was amazed to see a figure resembling his wife appearing in the Moon. He brought his wife’s favourite food and offered it as a sacrifice for her at the altar. The news spread like wildfire, and soon, the townspeople also began offering sacrifices to Chang E to pray for peace and good luck.

Story from: Travel China Guide

Thus began the custom of sacrificing to the Moon. Thus began the custom of consuming mooncakes during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Have you had your mooncakes yet? Here’s a tip: Buy some and give them to your family and friends. They will reciprocate and give some back to you. Voila! Everyone has some mooncakes, and everyone can start eating their mooncakes. How’s that for a happy ending? Some people say that the Mid-Autumn Festival is also associated with lanterns, some calling it the Lantern Festival. So guys and girls, time to light up the lanterns too, and let’s all celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival tomorrow night!