Mid-Autumn Lights.

Light up the lanterns and let them float, up, up, up and away... | Photo taken by author.
My childhood memories where I’d float these lanterns with my sister at our home. | Photo taken by author.

It’s that time of the year again… No, not the haze. That’s actually a rather depressing topic to talk about. I’m referring to that time of the year where people eat mooncakes and make paper lanterns to light up and float them around. For the children, it really is for the fun of it. But for the adults, it’s another matter altogether. We call it, a ‘tradition’.

Mid-Autumn History: A Brief Tale.

Let me tell you a bit about this custom and tradition. The Mid-Autumn Festival goes back over 3,000 years ago to the activity of worshipping the moon during the Shang Dynasty (1600 – 1046 BC) in China. The custom began in its earliest form where the ancient Chinese emperors worshipped the harvest moon at Mid-Autumn as they believed that the practice would reap bountiful rewards of harvest the next year. The act of sacrificing to the moon has various names in different regions of China, where it can be called:

  • Worshipping the moon‘ in Suzhou of the Jiangsu Province,
  • Thanking peace‘ in Zhenjiang of the Jiangsu Province,
  • Paying respect to the moon palace‘ in Zhenghe or the Fujian Province,
  • Making wishes to the moon‘ in Zhongmou of the Henan Province, or,
  • Worshipping moonlight‘ in Sihui of the Guangdong Province.

It doesn’t matter what it was known as, but to China, it was well and the same. The word ‘Mid-Autumn’ first appeared in the Zhou Dynasty literature, when the act of worshipping the moon fell on the 15th night of the eighth month (August) and spread to the high officials and rich families. The practice states that a large table with offerings such as fruits and snacks be prepared in the middle of the yard under the moon. This custom originates from the act of worshipping the Lunar Goddess, and was recorded that the ancient kings offered sacrifices to the moon in Fall during the Western Zhou Dynasty era between 1045 and 770 BC. Sacrificing to the moon was very popular in the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) that it became a custom ever since. Offerings can range from fruits and incense to mooncakes and watermelons (pomelos in the south). The skin of the watermelon or pomelo is sometimes sliced open and made into a lotus shape when offered as a sacrifice.

Mid-Autumn Festival: Now and Forever.

Once the custom and tradition have been set in motion, people nowadays still follow it as much as they can. Mostly the elderly folk who still believe in the tradition. As for the younger generation, many may have forgotten the reason behind this captivating festival. But no one will forget to buy a mooncake, light a candle and place it in a lantern, and enjoy the night. This year, the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on Sunday, 27 September 2015. Time for me to do my bit, too!

Click China Highlights for more information on this traditional festival.

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