When it comes to Mid-autumn Festival (中秋节; zhōng qiū jié in pinyin), people old and young, will automatically think of the famous love story regarding the origin of the festival. Actually, no consensus has been reached on this issue since different versions of legend exist in different parts of China. But one of the most popular and widely recognized one goes like this:
Long, long ago, there were ten suns in the sky. It was so hot that the sea was dried and crevices could be seen everywhere on the ground and people were on the verge of dying. The disaster called the attention of a hero named Houyi who climbed up to the top of Kunlun Mountain and shot down nine suns with his magic bow. People were therefore saved from drought and Houyi was highly respected since then. Hearing the good news, many ambitious people, evil ones included, came to be apprentices of Houyi to learn his shooting skills.
Soon after Houyi married a fairy-like lady called Chang'e and they lived a happy life together. One day, Houyi came to Kunlun Mountain to visit a friend and happened to meet Wang Mu Niang Niang, the queen of the heaven who gave him two pills which had the magic effect of keeping people immortal. Houyi took the pills home and asked Chang'e to keep it. Unfortunately, an apprentice of Houyi learned this and he tried to grasp the pills from Chang'e. Having no other choice, Chang'e swallowed both the two pills and flied to the moon which became the popular tale known as Chang'e Benyue (嫦娥奔月) today. Thereafter, the fairtale couple was separated and Houyi was said to make moon cakes to share with his wife who lived in the moon palace since then at every Mid-autumn Festival in the hope of reuniting with Chang'e one day
Today people across China observe Mid-autumn Festival on the fifteenth of the eighth month in Chinese lunar calendar, right in the middle of the month when the moon is supposed to be in its brightest and fullest state. Mid-autumn Festival is now considered as one of the four most important traditional festivals in China, the other three being Spring Festival, Tomb-sweeping Day and Dragon Boat Festival. In 2008, Mid-autumn Festival was designated as a national official holiday which fully shows the importance Chinese government attached on its intangible cultural heritage.
Apart from the beautiful and moving tale, moon cake, the traditional food served on this day is also worth mentioning. Just as its name suggests, moon cake is normally round and looks very much like a full moon. On mid-autumn day, a wide selection of moon cakes with a variety of flavors and fillings are available in any shops or supermarkets. Those decorated by fine packing materials have a particularly high price tag; some may reach several hundred yuan for only two or three moon cakes wrapped up in an exquisite box.
Nowadays, Mid-autumn Festival has become an occasion for family members to get together to appreciate the bright moon while sharing some latest happenings and interesting stories in the old days and sending their best wishes through the moon to friends or relatives that cannot manage to go back home on this day. Moon cakes are also served as sacrificial offerings to the Luna. In the south part of ancient China, a special kind of lantern shaped like a pagoda was lighted and today different minorities have their own distinct way to celebrate this festival adding to the festive atmosphere.
This year, Mid-autumn Festival falls on the 12th of September, again an occasion for family reunion, a night to appreciate the full moon and a booming market for moon cakes.