Last week was “Golden Week”: the Mid Autumn Festival and National Holiday, which basically means a week off work for most people and a huge travel opportunity!
The People’s Republic of China was founded on October 1, 1949 with a ceremony at Tiananmen Square. The Central People’s Government passed a Resolution and declared that October 1 is the National Day. The National Day marks the start of one of the two Golden Weeks in the PRC (the other is for Chinese New Year). The National Day is celebrated throughout China and Hong Kong and Macau, with a variety of government-organised festivities, including fireworks and concerts. Public places, such as Tiananmen Square in Beijing, are decorated in a festive theme. Portraits of revered leaders, such as Mao Zedong, are publicly displayed.
The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, Mooncake Festival or Zhongqiu 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, close to the autumnal equinox. The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most important holidays in the Chinese calendar, the others being Spring Festival and Winter Solstice. Accompanying the celebration, there are additional cultural or regional customs, such as:
- Eating mooncakes, traditionally consisting primarily of lotus bean paste. We bought ours from Starbucks – coffee, green tea and caramel flavoured.
- Drinking tea.
- In some parts of China, dances are held for young men and women to find partners. “One by one, young women are encouraged to throw their handkerchiefs to the crowd. The young man who catches and returns the handkerchief has a chance of romance.”
- Carrying brightly lit lanterns, lighting lanterns on towers, floating sky lanterns.
- Burning incense in reverence to deities including Chang’e
- Fire Dragon Dances.
- Solving riddles, or miyu in Mandarin Chinese, usually written on slips of paper and pasted on the lanterns.
- The Moon rabbit is a traditional icon.
The story of Chang E is the most widely accepted tale regarding the origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival. It is said that in ancient times, ten suns existed and the extreme heat made people’s lives very difficult. It was the hero Hou Yi who, owing to his great strength, shot down the nine of the ten suns. On hearing of this amazing feat and the hero who performed it, people came from far and wide to learn from him. Peng Meng was among these people. Later, Hou Yi married a beautiful and kind woman named Chang E and lived a happy life.
One day, Hou Yi came upon Wangmu (the queen of heaven) on the way to meet his old friend. Wangmu presented him an elixir which, if drunk, would cause him to ascend immediately to heaven and become an immortal. Instead of drinking the potion himself, Hou Yi took it home and presented it to Chang E to keep. Unfortunately, Peng Meng secretly saw Hou Yi give the potion to his wife and three days later, while Hou Yi was out hunting, Peng Meng rushed into the backyard and demanded that Chang E hand over the elixir. Knowing that she could not win, she took out the elixir and swallowed it immediately. The moment she drank it, she flew out of the window and up into the sky. Chang E’s great love for her husband drew her towards the Moon, which is the nearest heavenly body to the earth.
On realising what happened to his wife, Hou Yi was so grief stricken that he shouted Chang E’ s name to the sky. He was amazed to see a figure which looked just like his wife appeared in the Moon, which now takes the form of a rabbit. He took the food liked by Chang E to an altar and offered it as a sacrifice for her. Hou Yi’s neighbours also burned incense and prepared food to express their good wishes to the kind Chang E. This became a custom later every year.
If you look at the moon from China, you can clearly see a rabbit shape! For us, it was a fabulous opportunity to travel to Singapore and Malaysia.