Today is the 15th day of the 8th lunar month – and this year a harvest moon to boot! China and its Asian neighbours will be celebrating the Mid-Autumn, Moon or Mooncake Festival.In Singapore and Malaysia it is known as the Lantern Festival, not to be confused with the Chinese New Year Lantern Festival in January.
The festival has its roots in moon worship back in ancient China: at this time of year, the Chinese used to make sacrifices to the Moon God, to give thanks for the safe harvest and to ask for fertility and abundance in the year ahead.
Nowadays the festival is focused on family and togetherness, as symbolised by the round shape of the full moon. Families go out at night together, carrying lanterns of many colours against the night sky, to watch dragon and lion dances and firework displays. Riddles may be written on the lanterns for everyone to solve. In Vietnam the Mid-Autumn festival is known as the ‘Children’s Festival’ because of the emphasis on children in the festivities.
Key to the celebration of the festival is the baking and distribution of Moon Cakes – these are traditionally made from lotus seeds and egg yolk but there are many local variants. They may be in the form of many small cakes, or one cake which is cut and shared amongst family members. A piece of cake is saved for any family member not present, and a token offering made to the Moon to ask for family reunion, and a long and happy life.
As the celebrations take place at night, the day after the festival is a public holiday in Hong Kong.