The Full Moon or Mid-Autumn Festival takes place on September 15 in China, Vietnam and anywhere else ethnic Chinese people live. We take a look at what makes the celebrations so special.
What exactly is the Full Moon Festival?
The Full Moon Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival, is a harvest festival celebrated by ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese people on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese Han and Vietnamese calendars. It is celebrated in mainland China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and other Asian countries, and by ethnic Chinese worldwide, including here in Australia. While it is probably best know it best for its mooncakes (pictured), which are pastries filled with red bean or lotus seed paste (and occasionally yolks from salted duck eggs), and which are traditionally given as gifts during the festival, each country celebrates the festival in different ways. We take a look at some of them here in anticipation of this year’s festival, which falls on September 15.
The Chinese have been celebrating the autumn full moon harvest since the second millennium BC. While the festival was originally a time to enjoy the successful reaping of rice and wheat, with food offerings made in honour of the moon, today it’s an occasion for families to come together, eat mooncakes, light lanterns, and in general have a jolly good time of it. China listed the festival as intangible cultural heritage in 2006 and a public holiday in 2008. The use of lanterns actually stems from another festival – the Ghost Festival, which takes place a month before the Mid-Autumn one – where lanterns were placed on rivers to guide the spirits of the drowned. Today the lantern has become an integral symbol of the festival itself. The festival’s other integral symbol is obviously the mooncake. In Chinese culture, a round shape symbolises completeness and reunion. Sharing round mooncakes among family members during the week of the festival thus signifies the completeness and unity of families. They don’t taste half bad, either!
In Vietnam, the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is the most important holiday after Vietnamese New Year, is also known as the Children’s Festival, because of the event’s emphasis on children there. There’s a reason for that emphasis. In the old days, the Vietnamese believed that children had the closest connection to the sacred world and that being close to children was thus a way to connect with the gods. Even today, most Vietnamese festival traditions and events centre on or around children, from the giving of gifts (like those pictured) to the traditional dragon dances.
Hong Kong and Macau
In Hong Kong and Macau, the day after the Mid-Autumn Festival is a public holiday rather than the festival date itself. While there are large public lantern displays (pictured), the emphasis here is very much on mooncakes. People start buying and exchanging these as gifts long before the festival itself, often paying a premium for the most lavish cakes they can afford. They also buy so many of them that they can’t possibly eat them all: according to the Wall Street Journal‘s China edition, as many as two million mooncakes are thrown away each year in Hong Kong alone. There are nighttime celebrations throughout Hong Kong and Macau during the festival, the most impressive of which is held in Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island. The carnival atmosphere is buoyed by traditional stage shows, palm readings, game stalls, lantern riddle quizzes and many more events.
The Taiwanese celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival with a public holiday that is characterised by outdoor barbecues, which have become a way for friends and family to come together and gaze at the moon. Although this isn’t connected to any ancient tradition (except perhaps for the Taiwanese people’s love of barbecue!), Taipei City opens a number of riverside parks to accommodate such barbecues during the festival. One of the most popular is Dajia Riverside Park, which is in sight of Dazhi Bridge and the Grand Hotel. Expect to hear some great live music!
Singapore’s ethnic Chinese community celebrates the festival in all the ways you would expect – mooncakes, lanterns, public get-togethers – but also with a festival-within-a-festival. Moonfest is an annual Chinese arts festival, showcasing a variety of folk arts and performances, such as Chinese opera, cross-talk and puppetry. It also has a popular lantern walkabout. The best places to enjoy the festival in Singapore are Chinatown, where you can sample mooncakes and fine teas at the street bazaars, watch nightly performances and peek at lantern-painting competitions, and also the city’s Chinese Garden.
Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese population has long celebrated the Full Moon Festival, keeping its traditions and customs alive by eating mooncakes, taking in the fill moon and staging lantern parades. In the UNESCO World Heritage-listed city of Malacca, the famous Chinatown Jonker Walk (pictured) also goes all out for the festival, hosting dragon and lion dances and parades consisting of floats illustrating Chinese folktales related to the festival.
In the Philippines, Filipino-Chinese celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, not only with mooncakes and family get-togethers, but also with a spot of gambling. Puah tiong-chhiu, which means “mid-autumn gambling” in Philippine Hokkien, is a game of chance that originated in the Fujian province of China. It’s played by both Filipino-Chinese and Filipinos alike.
Obviously, Australia’s various Asian communities – Chinese, Vietnamese, Taiwanese and more – get in on the action as well! In all the major cities, the various communities hold public events where lanterns, traditional performances, barbecues and, yes, mooncakes, are all available. The best part about them is that they’re open to everybody: if you’d like to learn a little more about the Full Moon Festival, all you need to do is search online and find the event closest to you.