This is often a time for friends and family to gather and admire the moon at its fullest and enjoy pomelos and lotus-seed paste moon cakes, a Chinese delicacy which are only available during the season. In recent years, however, there have been more innovative flavours ranging from the popular green tea to chocolate ice-cream. Join in the lantern-carrying processions, where children are accompanied by their parents in carrying brightly lit lanterns around. Traditionally the lanterns were either cylindrical or had an oval base and were lit by candles. Today's lanterns come in all shapes and sizes, and are battery operated.
The legend of Houyi and Chang'e is strongly associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival. The story has been permuted and changed over generations, but the gist of the tale remains. In Chinese mythology, it was said that there used to be ten suns that would take turns to bring light to the earth. One day, all ten suns decided to travel together, which caused the Earth to burn.
The Emperor of China entrusted his warrior Houyi to shoot down nine of the suns with magic arrows, and was rewarded with a pill of eternal life upon his task's completion. Instead of swallowing the pill immediately, Houyi hid it at home. While the archer was away on an errand, his wife Chang'e found the pill by following a beam of light. Curiousity compelled her to swallow the pill, which gave her to ability to fly. Upon his return home, Houyi discovered Chang'e's error and reprimanded her. In her attempt to escape Chang'e flew out through the window and headed toward the moon.
Houyi chased her halfway across the heavens but eventually his attempts were curtailed by strong winds. Chang'e finally reached the moon where she remains forever with her only companion, the moon rabbit. Houyi only gets to visit her once a year on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, thus the moon is particularly delightful on that night. Other versions of the folklore say that Houyi and Chang'e are banished immortals trying to regain their place in heaven, or that Chang'e has swallowed the pill to prevent it from falling into the clutches of her husband's greedy apprentice.
The traditional consumption of mooncakes during the festival may have been part of moon worship, but the act has an additional meaning. Another legend says that during the war with the Mongols before the Ming Dynasty, the sweet treat played a huge part in the Chinese rebellion. Secret messages would be hidden in the pastry and distributed to troops and civilians, which eventually led to a victorious uprising.
Catch the moon in its full glory on the Mid-Autumn Festival or immerse in the beautifully decorated lanterns and lights thronging the streets of Chinatown for an enjoyable evening. You can also catch cultural performances ranging from acrobatics to dragon dances; and festive activities like a Mass Lantern Walk and Lantern Painting Competition at Chinatown during this period.
In 2012, the Mid-Autumn Festival will fall on 30 September.