Chinese Holidays

So we just had a three-day weekend in celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival (or Moon Festival). I’m sure none of you have ever heard about the Chinese Moon Festival, but think of it as the Jewish equivalent of Sukkot, it’s a harvest festival. Here is some more information about the Moon Festival.

The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, is a popular harvest festival celebrated by Chinese people. The Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, which is in September or early October in the Gregorian calendar. It is a date that parallels the autumnal equinox of the solar calendar, when the moon is at its fullest and roundest. The traditional food of this festival is the mooncake (which is kind of like a hamantaschen), of which there are many different varieties.

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Celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival is strongly associated with the legend of Houyi and Chang’e, the Moon Goddess of Immortality. Unlike many lunar deities in other cultures who personify the moon, Chang’e simply lives on the moon but is not the moon per se.

The legend states that Houyi was an immortal and Chang’e was a beautiful young girl, working in the palace of the Jade Emperor (the Emperor of Heaven) as an attendant to the Queen Mother of the West (the Jade Emperor’s wife). Houyi aroused the jealousy of the other immortals, who then slandered him before the Jade Emperor. Houyi and his wife, Chang’e, were subsequently banished from heaven. They were forced to live on Earth. Houyi had to hunt to survive and became a skilled and famous archer.

At that time, there were ten suns, in the form of three-legged birds, residing in a mulberry tree in the eastern sea. Each day one of the sun birds would have to travel around the world on a carriage. One day, all ten of the suns circled together, causing the Earth to burn. Emperor Yao, the Emperor of China, commanded Houyi to use his archery skill to shoot down all but one of the suns. Upon completion of his task, the Emperor rewarded Houyi with a pill that granted eternal life. Emperor Yao advised Houyi not to swallow the pill immediately but instead to prepare himself by praying and fasting for a year before taking it. Houyi took the pill home and hid it under a rafter. One day, Houyi was summoned away again by Emperor Yao. During her husband’s absence, Chang’e, noticed a white beam of light beckoning from the rafters, and discovered the pill. Chang’e swallowed it and immediately found that she could fly. Houyi returned home, realizing what had happened he began to reprimand his wife. Chang’e escaped by flying out the window into the sky.

Houyi pursued her halfway across the heavens but was forced to return to Earth because of strong winds. Chang’e reached the moon, where she coughed up part of the pill. Chang’e commanded the hare that lived on the moon to make another pill. Chang’e would then be able to return to Earth and her husband.

The legend states that the hare is still pounding herbs, trying to make the pill. Houyi built himself a palace in the sun, representing “Yang” (the male principle), in contrast to Chang’e’s home on the moon which represents “Yin” (the female principle). Once a year, on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, Houyi visits his wife. That is the reason why the moon is very full and beautiful on that night.

I asked my co-workers how people celebrate the holiday and they said that they spend it by having a big dinner with their family and then watching TV. (Sounds a lot like how many Americans celebrate Thanksgiving). A big custom is to buy these mooncakes and give them as gifts. The supermarket next-door has been packed with people buying these really fancy (and somewhat expensive) mooncakes. It’s been a pretty cool festival to be a part of.

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Well the fam (my mom and dad) are coming to visit me here in China and are arriving on Monday. We are off to Shanghai and then to Beijing. So it might be a while till I post again. I’m sure I will get into some mischief while they are here, so don’t worry.

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About JoelS

Spending a year teaching English and saving the world in China
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