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The Mid-Autumn Festival (Moon Festival Part I)

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The Mid-Autumn Festival occurs on the 15th day of the eight lunar month. Of all the festival in the year, this is the richest in poetic sentiment. It is also the time of year when people are the most nostalgic

According to studies of folk customs, the Mid-Autumn Festival originated from the ancient custom of worshipping the moon. Particularly in agricultural communities of former times, nature was regarded with great respect. After the harvest, people held a festival celebration to thank heaven and earth for providing for them.

Looking at the shadows on the moon, ancient people made up all kinds of mythical tales about the moon. A collection of poems called the Ch’u Tz’u contains the earliest record of a jade rabbit  that lives on the moon and grinds herbs for the immortals. Later, households in Peiping started celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival by honoring “Grandfather Rabbit.”

Aside from the jade rabbit that grinds herbs, the most popular legend is of how Ch’ang O fled to the moon. Ch’ang O was a beautiful maiden who lived during the Hsia dynasty. Her husband, Hou I, was the hero who shot the sun with his arrows, but he became addicted to the pursuit of pleasure and turned into a tyrannical ruler. Hou I used every means at his disposal to locate a magical herb of longevity. He and Ch’ang O agreed to take it together on the night of the full moon. Ch’ang O was concerned about the innocent people and couldn’t bear to allow them to be subjected to a tyrannical ruler who would never die so she decided to steal the magical herb. In her haste, she swallowed the whole thing. As a result, she sailed away up into the sky and went to live in the huge cold palace on the moon.

Another legend describes Wu Kang chopping a cassia tree on the moon. Wu Kang was once a heavenly immortal. He committed an offense and his punishment was to go to the moon to chop down a huge cassia tree. To his dismay, each time a piece was chopped out of the cassia tree, it immediately grew back. Wu Kang had to chop day and night, wearing down his arrogance, and giving people a legend with a lesson.

No matter what the legend, they are all enchanting embellishments people have added to the Mid-Autumn Festival. When the moon is full, people look forward to being reunited with one another. Therefore, the Mid-Autumn Festival is a “people’s festival,” symbolized by a full moon representing unity among people.

Even though man’s technological knowledge has already put a man on the moon, these charming mythical legends will always be a part of the Mid-Autumn Festival celebration.

The traditional food associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival is, of course, the mooncake. The most common kind of mooncake is the Kuang mooncake. Then there is the Su mooncake, which is distinguished by its small, delicate size. Mooncake fillings come in many different flavors, but most have red bean paste as their main ingredient. We will now introduce how to make Kuang mooncakes and Su mooncakes. (To be continued.)




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