How does the Chinese celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival?

abundantToday is 19th September, 2013 Thursday. I am rushing to post this before the midnight clock strikes.

What is so special about this day? It may not mean much to most people but it is an important day for the Chinese and Vietnamese. Today is the 15th day of the eighth month in the Lunar calendar,  a day of a full moon, which we commonly call it the Mid-Autumn Festival. (中秋节). Originally the Festival was to celebrate plentiful harvests and family reunion. Most families, especially children, love to light up lanterns and walk in the streets or gardens.

Moon in Chinese literature and songs

The Chinese has many poems (诗词)and songs associate with the moon. We have a special kind of love for the moon. During our secondary school time, we are to memorize many nice poems written by the ancient scholars. One of the popular ones is LiBai (李白)’s “Quiet Night Thought” (静夜思) written in the Tang Dynasty:

床前明月光, 疑是地上霜,举头望明月,低头思故乡。

 Moonlight shines on my bed side, it looks like snow on the ground. Raising my head I see the moon, bowing my head I think of my homeland.

An attempt to put music into this poem can be viewed below:

Moon can be romantic too. One of the classical songs popularized by famous Taiwanese singer Teresa Teng is “The moon represents my heart” (月亮代表我的心). You may enjoy listening to the song below:

Moon cakesCelebrating the Festival with Moon cakes

Mid-Autumn Festival will not be complete without moon cakes. People give family, friends and colleagues moon cakes, a small but filling pastry embossed with a description of its innards or the name of a bakery. Others have patterns of clouds, the moon or a rabbit. The treats are traditionally filled with an egg yolk embraced by lotus seed, red bean or jujube paste and five varieties of nuts and seeds. Moon cakes are usually eaten together with a pot of good tea. Families and friends are sitting in a round table happily chatting while enjoying the food and tea.

There is a great story behind the Moon cakes.

During the Yuan (元朝)dynasty (A.D.1280-1368) China was ruled by the Mongolian people. Leaders from the preceding Sung (宋朝)dynasty (A.D.960-1280) were unhappy at submitting to foreign rule, and set how to coordinate the rebellion without it being discovered. The leaders of the rebellion, knowing that the Moon Festival was drawing near, ordered the making of special cakes. Backed into each moon cake was a message with the outline of the attack. On the night of the Moon Festival, the rebels successfully attacked and overthrew the government. What followed was the establishment of the Ming (明朝)dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644). Today, moon cakes are eaten to commemorate this legend too.

Moon in religious worship

The idea of moon does not limit to Chinese literature and songs. It has been an important part in the religious life of Chinese. One of the important parts of the festival celebration is moon worship. The ancient Chinese believed in rejuvenation being associated with the moon and water. The Zhuang (状族)people, for example, have an ancient fable saying the sun and moon are a couple and the stars are their children, and when the moon is pregnant, it becomes round, and then becomes crescent after giving birth to a child. These beliefs made it popular among women to worship and give offerings to the moon on this evening. For the Chinese, having many children is a sign of great blessings.

Chang'eOfferings are also made to a more well-known lunar deity, Chang’e (嫦娥),known as the Moon Goddess of Immortality. The myths associated with Chang’e explain the origin of moon worship during this day. There are different versions of the story.

One version as described in Lihui Yang’s Handbook of Chinese Mythology is as follows:

In the ancient past, there was a hero named Hou Yi (后羿) who was excellent at shooting. 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 Feng Meng (蓬蒙), one of his apprentices, knew this secret. So, on the fifteenth of August in the lunar calendar, when Yi went hunting, Feng 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 her husband very much 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.

Yang describes another version of the tale which provides a different reason for Chang’e ascending to the moon:

After the hero Houyi shot down nine of the ten suns, he was pronounced king by the thankful people. However, he soon became a conceited and tyrannical ruler. In order to live long without death, he asked for the elixir from Xiwangmu (西王母). But his wife, Chang’e, stole it on the fifteenth of August because she did not want the cruel king to live long and hurt more people. She took the magic potion to prevent her husband from becoming immortal. Houyi was so angry when discovered that Chang’e took the elixir, he shot at his wife as she flew toward the moon, though he missed. Chang’e fled to the moon and became the spirit of the moon. Houyi died soon because he was overcome with great anger. Thereafter, people offer a sacrifice to Chang’e on every lunar fifteenth of August to commemorate Chang’e’s action.

LanternHow should we celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival as Christians?

Many Christians don’t celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival because of its association with worshiping the moon and its superstitious practices. This needs not be so. We are believers in Jesus Christ. We are also ethnic Chinese group. I remember our Pastor shared with us the way to celebrate non-Christians’ Festivals:

  1. Retain – what are good and purely cultural. In this case, we celebrate “harvests” and family reunions. We also can appreciate the beauty of the poems and songs about the moon.
  2. Reject – only those parts of the cultures and practices which associate with worshiping another gods or goddesses or created things. In this case, we will not participate in worship and offerings to the moon, Chang’e or other forms.
  3.  Redeemed – Certain part of the cultures can be redeemed to be part of Chinese Christians’ practices. For example, lantern to signify the light shines into darkness, reminding us to be light of this world.Mooncakes

For Christians, it is always the right moment to praise and worship the Creator God. When we remember God’s goodness, especially in a plentiful harvest, it is always right to give thanks to Him. Read what it says in the Bible.

“Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob! Begin the music, strike the tambourine, play the melodious harp and lyre. Sound the ram’s horn at the New Moon, and when the moon is full, on the day of our Feast; this is a decree for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob.“ (Psalms 81:1-4)


For our meditation and reflection:

Praise and worship

Festive seasons are joyous occasions. When Christians enjoying peace and happiness in these days, let us not forget to give thanks and praise our God.


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