Gauss-Telegraph: Chinese Moon Festival

Gauss-Telegraph: Chinese Moon Festival

by Fangzheng Sun

What is the moon festival?

The moon festival or mid-autumn festival (Chinese: 中秋節 / 中秋节, Pinyin: Zhōngqiūjié, short: 中秋, Zhōngqiū) is celebrated in Asia on the 15th day of the eighth month in the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. In ancient times, emperors sacrificed the sun in spring and the moon in autumn. The word “mid-autumn” (中秋) can already be found in the historical works from the Zhou dynasty (approx. 11th century to 256 B.C.). Later the nobles and men of letters followed the example of the emperors and admired the bright full moon in autumn. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911) it became one of the most important festivals in China. The festival is also celebrated in South Korea as Chuseok and in Vietnam as Tết Trung Thu. In Japan there is also an equivalent festival called Otsukimi.

Why is it celebrated?

There are several legends about the moon festival. According to one legend, the lunar festival originates from the legend of Cháng’é’s ascension to the moon (嫦娥奔月, Cháng’é Bēnyuè), which is about the archer Houyi / Hou Yi (后羿, Hòuyì). In prehistoric times there were ten suns and three-legged birds born by the sun goddess Xi He (羲和, Xīhé) called Yangwu (陽烏, Yángwū) or Jinwu (金烏, Jīnwū). They gathered one day and let the earth dry up and the harvest wither. Hou Yi climbed the top of the Kunlun Mountain, shot down nine suns and ordered the last sun to rise and set on time every day.  From a goddess, Houyi had received a pill of immortality. His wife Chang’e swallowed this medicine and then floated up to the moon. There she built herself a palace, in which she has lived ever since. The festival celebrates three basic concepts that are closely related to each other.

Meeting: Family and friends come together and bring harvest for the festival. It is said that on this day the moon is brightest and roundest and stands for family reunion. This is the main reason why the festival is considered to be important.

Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving is given for the harvest and harmonious connections.

Prayer: Everyone asks for conceptual or material satisfaction, such as for babies, a spouse, beauty, longevity or a good future.

Traditions and myths surrounding the festival are formed around these concepts, although traditions have changed over time due to technological, scientific, economic, cultural and religious change.

How is it celebrated?

The festival is a time to enjoy the successful rice and wheat harvests with dishes in honor of the moon. Today it is still an occasion for relatives and friends to gather together to eat moon cakes and watch the moon. It is a symbol of harmony, well-being and unity. During a year with solar eclipse, it is typical to close government offices, banks and schools for several days to enjoy the extended celebration that the eclipse brings. The festival is celebrated with many cultural or regional customs. For example, incense is burned in reverence for deities including Chang’e. Another custom is the performance of dragon and lion dances, which are mainly practiced in southern China.

Moon cake

The moon cake (Chinese: 月餅 / 月饼, Pinyin: yuèbǐng) is a specialty of the Chinese kitchen, which can be filled both salty, and sweetly. The small cakes are given away to relatives and friends. Traditionally it is eaten at the moon festival in autumn, but also on other occasions. The typical moon cake is round, has a diameter of about 10 cm and is about 5 cm high. It is very nutritious and is usually served with Chinese tea.

Each region has its own moon cake recipes. In Taiwan, the salty moon cakes are filled with egg yolk and meat, the sweet ones with sweet potatoes. A sweet filling of beans, sesame and pineapple is also common.

The typical moon cake contains a sweet and somewhat greasy filling made of sugar, vegetable fat and a paste made from seeds of the lotus plant. Sometimes it also contains salted egg yolks inside to symbolize the full moon. The cake is usually decorated with Chinese characters, for example for “long life” or for “harmony”. They are rarely baked in private households, but are usually bought and then usually given away, often with expensive additions. Moon cake is rarely bought for personal use.

Come tonight at 7:00 pm to Gauss Haus and celebrate the moon festival with us!

The event will also be streamed on Facebook Live.