Falling on the 15th day of the eighth lunar moon, when the moon is believed to be at its brightest, the Mid-Autumn Festival is a time for families to gather and give thanks for the prosperity of the year. Although the Mid-Autumn Festival is considered one of the key holidays in East Asia, many of the traditions – including mooncake eating and lantern floating – here are three things you may not know about the Mid-Autumn Festival.
According to Chinese Mythology, the Mid-Autumn Festival began with the vanquishing of suns. While the sun’s rays are key to agricultural success, excessive heat has often caused droughts in China, stunting crops and drying huge patches of soil. It’s understandable, then, that the Chinese, who were dependent on a healthy harvest for their livelihood, had an ambivalent relationship with the sun.
According to a legend, a famous archer named Hou Yi saw ten suns rising in the sky together. Knowing that the intense heat would destroy the year’s crops, he shot down nine of them, leaving only one to warm the land. As a reward, Yi was given an elixir of immortality for his courageous act.
Not wanting to outlive his beloved Chang’e, the hero gave his wife the elixir instead of drinking it himself. After imbibing the elixir, Chang’e apotheosized and ascended to the moon, where she could look upon her love for all time. Because of this legend, the festival is often associated with everlasting love and prosperity.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is a celebration of love and romance. The Mid-Autumn Festival is sometimes called “the second Valentine’s Day” in China. The changing phases of the moon were often seen as reminiscent of a pregnant woman’s growing belly. In this way, the festival is treated as an occasion for meeting your life partner and starting a family. Indeed, single people would traditionally pray to find true love during the festivities.
Despite its name, the festival usually takes place in late September. The festival sometimes begins as early as September 8, which is still summer in many parts of the world (even China). According to the lunar calendar, the seventh, eighth and ninth lunar months together form the autumn season. And so, celebrating on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month puts the holiday in the middle of the lunar autumn months.
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