More than a month before the big day, booths are set up at shopping complexes, shops and street stalls promoting the sale of colourful lanterns and moon cakes, the 2 most important elements of this festival.
During this season, local town councils, shopping centres, temples and resident associations will organise lantern festivals at their locality encouraging mass participation on certain theme nights. It is indeed a sight to behold with families and friends coming out in full force to join in the festivities. Can you imagine how it will be with many beautiful lanterns lighting up the sky at night? I think it looks like a fairy wonderland. The sight of lighted lanterns fills me with a sense of wonder and joy, sometimes even therapeutic.
Consumers are spoilt for choice when it comes to the varieties of mooncakes available. Each mooncake can be differentiated by
a) the skin - baked, snow, crystal jelly or pastry type
c) flavour - sweet, reduced sugar, pandan, green tea, coffee, chocolate, fruity, etc
d) specialty - halal (pork free and conform to Muslim requirements) and even Haagen Dazs ice-cream moon cakes this year.
Mooncakes used to be produced by traditional chinese confectioners but nowadays many bakeries, hotels and restaurants produce them. In Malaysia, some factories mass produce the mooncakes that comes with halal certificates and ISO 9001 certifications! Every year it looks like an all out war among them as each baker race to outdo the other with new designs, innovation and creative names.
Besides the usual moon cakes and lanterns, there are other must-haves, like the taro roots and water caltrop (lengkok). These items are boiled with a little salt and used as prayer offerings, then eaten.
Many devotees from far and near came to offer prayers at the temple. There were chinese opera performances followed by live concerts from local bands and the celebrations will last until the 15th day, i.e. the day of the Mid Autumn Festival. It is also during this season of mid-autumn that the 3 of us, brother and sisters were born. Grandma regarded this as heaven's blessing.
Eversince an American man took the first step on the moon, many of us have discontinued with the practise of praying to the full moon. Instead we hold parties, family gatherings or participate in big scale events organised by the local authorities. The Mid Autumn Festival used to be a grand celebration for our family, particularly during the days when my grandparents were caretakers of the "Ho Sin Ku Miu" Chinese temple. It coincided with the birthday celebrations of Goddess Ho which falls on the 4th day of the 8th lunar month. Ho Sin Ku, (or He Siang Ku 何仙姑) is known as Immortal Woman He and a member of the Eight Immortals.
There are 2 main folklore related to the Mid Autumn Festival.
- The Story of Chang'E
- Once upon a time, during the Hsia Dynasty (2205-1766 BC) there were 10 suns that took turns to illuminate Earth. One day, all 10 of them appeared together and caused havoc to people on Earth. Can you imagine how scortch our planet will be? The Jade Emperor ordered Hou Yi to help. Hou Yi's wife, Chang'E also followed him to Earth. On Earth, Hou Yi was so angered by the destruction suffered by the ordinary folks that he shot down 9 of the suns. This angered the Jade Emperor and he banished Hou Yi to live as an ordinary person on Earth. Hou Yi became very powerful which made him vain and proud. Chang'E was disappointed with him, so she swallowed the whole pill of immortality which both of them were supposed to share and she flew to the moon where she became a fairy. People began to put up an incense table under the moon and pray to Chang'E. This legend has been passed down from the generations and until today, some people still think of Chang'E when they gazed at the moon during the Mid Autumn Festival.
- During the time when China was ruled by the Mongols, rebel leaders who were planing an uprising used cakes made in the shape of the moon on the pretext of distributing it to friends and relatives to bless the longevity of the ruling Mongol King. Actually inside these thousands of cakes with sweet fillings were paper messages which asked the people to rise against the Mongols on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. With this mass rebellion, their leader was able to overthrow the Mongols and established the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The eating of mooncakes started towards the end of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and the Mid Autumn Festival became an important and meaningful celebration.
Lastly, do you have a mid-autumn story that you'd like to share with me?
P/S: For recipes on the making of mooncakes, please visit kuali and type in the word 'mooncake' under the search box.