Today is the day of the mid-autumn festival. It’s the second most important holiday after the Chinese New Year. It falls on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar on a full moon night. During the festivities people celebrate the moon, give thanks for the harvest and eat mooncakes. Man… how I miss all those colourful decorations, the festive celebrations and the fire dragon dance.
The first time I tried them it was in Singapore in 2008. By that time, I had no clue what they were but fell in love with mooncakes instantly. That relationship still lasts 😛 Later, during my time in Hong Kong, the mid-autumn festival was the holiday I was waiting for most. There were no big fireworks like for the Chinese New Year but the decorations were amazing… sooo colourful! Reason why I couldn’t wait for the mid-autumn festival were mooncakes. I could eat mooncakes all day every day, I could even rub them into my skin or liquefy and inject them. They are available in the bakeries from around a month before mid-autumn festival.
Which means you have to wait the whole year to eat them. Maybe that’s why I love them so much. The mooncakes are round in shape which symbolises completeness and reunion. They come with different fillings. The most traditional and also my favourites are with lotus seed and sweet bean paste. They also have an egg yolk inside which symbolises the full moon. The most sophisticated mooncakes have four yolks inside to represent the four phases of the moon. You can have many types of filling but only one type of crust. Depending on the region the crust can be chewy, flaky or crumbly. Yes… There are different variations of mooncakes. All depends on the region. My favourite ones are the Cantonese style mooncakes. In Hong Kong I even found variations filled with chocolate or ice cream style mooncakes. Well before and during mid-autumn festival the world circles around a mooncake 😀
There are several legends related to the mid-autumn festival. My two favourite ones are about the jade rabbit and a beautiful lady Chang’e who flew to the moon.
Chang’e and the moon
As the legend goes, in ancient times there were ten suns in the sky. The heat was so intense that it burned all the crops and plants. Hou Yi, who was a great archer, shot down nine of the suns and saved the people on earth. As a reward The Queen Mother of the West gave Hou Yi an elixir that would make him immortal and take him to heaven. Sadly, the elixir was only for one person so Hou Yi didn’t drink it. He didn’t want to leave his beautiful wife Chang’e. One day while Hou Yi was haunting, a villain broke into his house to steal the immortality elixir.
Chang’e knew she didn’t have any chance to defeat the villain so she swallowed the elixir. She became immortal and flew to the moon which was the place in heaven closest to earth. Hou Yi was so sad that during a full moon he placed a table outside putting fruits and food on it hoping for Chang’e to come back. According to the legend this is how celebrating the mid-autumn festival started.
The jade rabbit
The Jade Emperor was looking for a replacement for the corrupt medicine man who was producing pills of immortality. He decided to pick an animal as they are more trustworthy and honest than men. To find that animal the Emperor sent three divine beings to earth. They took the form of old men and while walking through the woods they were asking the animals for food. A fox, a monkey and a rabbit turned out to be most sympathetic. The fox brought a fish from the river, the monkey fruits and the rabbit… nothing although he searched in the woods. The rabbit felt so sorry that he couldn’t find anything to eat for the three men so he sacrificed himself. The rabbit jumped into the fire so the three men could eat him. They were impressed by the rabbit’s selflessness so they took him to heaven. When The Jade Emperor heard what happened on earth he decided to make the rabbit the medicine man.
The rabbit worked very hard and made the Emperor extremely happy so he decided to make the rabbit’s fur white with a magical glow. In fact, the fur looked like precious jade. Since then all the divine beings started to call the rabbit – The Jade Rabbit.
During my last mid-autumn festival in 2019 – now seems like millennia ago I went to Victoria Park to admire the dazzling decorations to eat mooncakes and afterwards to see the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance. Decorations didn’t disappoint at all; neither did the mooncakes. The fire dragon dance however… woha!!! I didn’t expect so many people to gather in the parade area. On the other hand, it’s the famous Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance! I could be more foreseeing when it comes to the amount of people who wanted to see it. It wasn’t easy to find a good viewing spot. The pavements at the main parade road were packed. I found a back alley, climbed on a metal fence and held on to a pole (haha when I think that now I’m taking pole dance lessons). The view was so-so but at least I was high enough to see over the crowds and get a glimpse of the fire dragon dance. Although, just for a few minutes, I have to say that the dance was pretty impressive. Attaching a clip from National Geographic to visualise the amazingness.
After that I simply took my three remaining mooncakes, bought a bottle of beer and went to the ultimate spot in HK – the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade. Sat down on a bench and admired the beautiful moon while eating my mooncakes. What a wonderful evening it was. Today I would sell my soul to the devil himself to be in HK and celebrate the mid-autumn festival.
Nevertheless, despite being miles away from HK I do celebrate mid-autumn festival my way just to remember what a colourful and happy day it is. Today I’m meeting my friend JGG for a delicious Thai dinner. It’s basically what mid-autumn festival is about. Give thanks for the harvest and spend time with friends.