Today was my first time celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival, Zhong Qiu Jie (中秋节), in China. Probably the second time, since I had spent a year in China when I was 3 years old. But it’s not like anyone remembers their time as a toddler. I keep hearing stories of how cute I was and how I made my uncle very happy when I first said Jiujiu (舅舅) in Chinese. Guess I’m not that cute anymore. Haha. Judge for yourself.
According to the lunar calendar, Mid-Autumn Festival happens on the 8th month on the 15th day, when the moon is at its roundest. This usually coincides with mid-September. This year, it occurred on September 21.
During this time, you’re supposed to visit your family, tuan yuan (团圆). When I celebrated this holiday in America, it involved only my immediate family. I never really knew my extended family so it was nice to eat dinner and moon cakes with my grandparents this year. I also gave my mother a call.
You probably heard of Mid-Autumn Festival, or sometimes called Moon Festival, and the tradition of eating moon cakes. If you’ve ate a moon cake, you may have wondered why there is a random egg yolk in there and why it tastes so strange. There seems to be a general consensus from the people around me that moon cakes don’t taste that great. But what is the history behind this holiday?
There was once a time when suddenly 10 suns appeared. With 10 suns, it must have felt pretty hot. If you think summer is hot, then having 10 times that heat must be hell. Well, of course people were unhappy. Hou Yi (后羿) used a bow & arrow and shot down 9 suns, leaving 1 sun in the sky. Of course, this would take a lot of strength and courage, so he was rewarded by Empress Wang Mu with a medicine that would give him immortality. He decided to share it with his wife, Chang E (嫦娥).
That was the plan, until one of Hou Yi’s student decided to force Chang E into giving him the immortality medicine while Hou Yi was out teaching. Left with no other choices and not wanting to surrender the medicine to the evil student, she drank it and rose to the sky. She decided to stay on the moon, which was closest to her lover, Hou Yi. When he returned, he couldn’t find his wife. He looked and looked. By then, the evil student had escaped. One night, he saw something on the moon. It was his wife. He set some food and a round cake on the table. This is now known as the moon cake.
I heard this story from one of our teachers here at Beijing Normal University. For those who are familiar with this myth, there may be many versions and I’m interested in hearing of them. Comment below!