For millions of people, September 10th is a very significant day. The Mid-Autumn Festival, also sometimes called the Moon Festival or the Mooncake Festival, is an important holiday across Asia, especially in countries with large Chinese ethnic populations. While September 10th might not seem particularly mid-autumn to those in the west, the date of the festival is decided according to the lunar calendar; specifically on the 15th day of the 8th month. Since each season in the lunar calendar is three months long, each month being exactly 30 days, the 15th day of the 8th month is exactly mid-autumn.
So, the "mid-autumn" name makes sense now, but what about its other names? Why is it called the Moon Festival? Well, the Mid-Autumn Festival is tightly tied to the legend of the moon goddess, Chang’e. The story of Chang’e is very old, and there are many variants, but the most important part is that the goddess, Chang’e, was married to a very skilled archer named Hou Yi. Having performed a favor for the gods, Hou Yi was granted a very special elixir of immortality that will help the two of them live forever. While the specific reason she did it changes between tellings - ranging anywhere from jealousy, to a need to keep the elixir from the hands of tyrants - Chang’e drinks all of the elixir, and ascends to godhood. After this, she flees to the moon, and from then on, her husband would offer sacrifices of cakes and fruits.
To this day, that tradition is continued through the Mid-Autumn Festival. Mooncakes, one of the most important aspects of the festival, are small, round cakes designed to be somewhat reminiscent of - you guessed it - the moon. Traditionally filled with lotus paste or red bean, some versions of the cake contain whole egg yolk to mimic the full moon, like the one in the image above! Every year, Asian groceries around the world feature beautiful displays of small mooncakes, with decorative boxes to give to friends or families. These boxes are, to some, as important as the cakes themselves. Over time, the mooncake market in China has grown a sort of competitiveness, where the luxury of the set can be considered a symbol of status. At their extremes, these mooncakes can be exorbitantly priced at more than $23 USD a cake.
Beyond the iconic mooncake, the full moon is also a symbol of family reunion. Families will get together, make big meals, and enjoy watching the full moon. Not only that, but public lantern displays and dances are held in festivals around the world. Many families enjoy partaking in the festivities together, although a growing number prefer to enjoy the holiday in their own homes, rather than travel to visit relatives.
Overall, the Mid-Autumn Festival is a time to appreciate family, to experience the festivities, and to enjoy the smaller things in life - like mooncakes.