Mid-Autumn Festival

Category: Social Practices, Rituals and Festive Events

Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the eight month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. It is celebrated by Chinese communities around the world, including China, Singapore, Malaysia, and many cities in the USA, Europe and Australia with sizable Chinese communities. The festival is likely to have origins in ancient worship practices of the moon, and served as a harvest festival to express gratitude to the gods.

Mid-Autumn Festival in the form that is more closely related to modern celebrations of the festival developed around the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD), and became established during the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD). There are many myths that surround the origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival centre, and the most common one is the story of Chang E (嫦娥), the wife of Hou Yi (后羿).

Several versions of this legend exists, and the account which is often cited is the one in which she drinks the elixir to save her people from becoming eternally tyrannised by an immortal Hou Yi, who had become an arrogant and domineering ruler. When Chang E drank the elixir, she found herself transported to the heavens. Chang E is traditionally worshipped by the Chinese community as the Moon Goddess. Other legends associated with the festival include the pounding of medicine by the Jade Rabbit (玉兔捣药) and Wu Gang, the woodcutter (吴刚伐桂).

Mid-Autumn Festival is also linked to folk tales concerning the resistance efforts of the Han Chinese in the mid-14th century against the Yuan Dynasty. The folk tales mention how the rebellion disseminated hidden messages in mooncakes which called for an uprising on the night of mid-autumn.

The mooncake is the quintessential food item for the festival, so much so that many Singaporeans refer to the festival as “Mooncake Festival”. The round shape of the mooncake symbolises family unity and harmony. Traditionally, mooncakes are filled with lotus seed or bean paste. In recent years, restaurants, cafes and hotels have launched mooncakes with different varieties of fillings in response to changing consumer tastes.

Traditionally-baked Mooncakes at Mid Autumn FestivalTraditional Mooncakes. Intangible Cultural Heritage Survey Project, National Heritage Board.

In Singapore, Mid-Autumn Festival continues to be widely celebrated by the Chinese community, and is a time for family reunion and celebration. Families often gather during the festival to indulge in mooncakes, coupled with the drinking of tea and the eating of pomelos. During the evening, grandparents, parents and children may gather or join neighbourhood events to carry lanterns around their estates. 

Piglet biscuits at Mid Autumn FestivalPiglet Biscuits. Intangible Cultural Heritage Survey Project, National Heritage Board.

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