Today, September 22nd, 2010 is the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, the day of the Mid Autumn Festival. It is also known as Mooncake Festival, Lantern Festival and Festival of Reunion. In Malaysia, it is a working day but all of us can join in the fun, the multi-racial way. We celebrate at home, are invited to open houses, parties or join lantern parades at night.
We buy moon cakes home and we also give them away to friends and relatives. It is a time when family members get together again. The full moon on this day symbolizes reunion and togetherness.
“Mid Autumn Festival 2010 and Water Caltrops”, a copyrighted post, was written for My Nice Garden blog by Autumn Belle @ http://www.mynicegarden.com/ on September 22nd 2010.
Thanks to Orchid de Dangau, it is called called "kacang tanduk" in Malay, meaning horn nuts.
For its English term, the plant is named after the caltrop, an ancient weapon made of iron with four pointed sides. The name "caltrop" is derived from the Latin word "calcitrapa" meaning foot-trap. Similarly, this plant also poses the same hazards to the bare or unprotected feet.
European water chestnuts are different from Chinese water chestnuts (Eleocharis dulcis) which is rounded and looks like an onion bulb. Chinese water chestnuts can be eaten raw and tastes crunchy and sweet.
Besides pomelos and mooncakes, it is also customary to have taro roots / mini yam and water caltrops. We prepare the taro roots and water caltrops by boiling them in water with a little bit of salt added for about 20-30 min. In Malaysia, water caltrops are only available during this season. This floating aquatic plant bears fruits that are shaped like a bull's horns. There is only one seed in each fruit pod which turns from green to shiny black. Water caltrop cannot be eaten raw because it contains a harmful parasite. When boiled, the seed tastes like chestnut. According to Wikipedia, this plant has been cultivated in China and India more than 3,000 years ago. It is boiled and sold as a streetside snack.
Water caltrop which looks like the bulls horns symbolises preseverence. It also looks like a bat which is an auspicious symbol of prosperity (fu).
These lanterns are used to light up a display area at a shopping complex. The theme is "Old Shanghai" where they tried to reenact old times when people worshiped the moon during a mid summer night and scholars wrote poetry praising the beauty of the full moon. Sayings like "the moon is full and bright" or "fragrant and sweet" abound as people sat down to enjoy the glorious moon while savouring the tasty mooncakes.
Another traditional Chinese custom is the "Guessing the Lantern Riddles" games/contests where riddles are written on pieces of paper and hung on the lanterns. The riddles are usually based on poetry, history and culture. In the old days, it was a time when the gentlemen could impress the young ladies with their knowledge and high IQ. Sometimes lantern making contests are held.
Long ago, it was a time when farmers celebrated the end of a harvest season and family members gather together to enjoy the brightness of the autumn moon. A table would be laid out with offerings and incense for prayers when the moon comes out at night (8-10pm). Candle-lit lanterns are hung decoratively. It is always a joy to watch children playing with the colourful lanterns where paper dragons, rabbits and phoenixes come to life under the bright lights of the little wax candles. The moon must be visible before we start praying. During prayers, we will light up the candles, joss sticks and burn incense paper. After prayers, the offerings like pomelos, oranges, apples, mooncakes, taro roots, water caltrop, groundnuts, melon seeds and tea will be enjoyed by everyone. It is believed that eating these items that has been offered first to the gods will bring us good luck. Young ladies pray to Chang'E with flowers and makeup, asking to be blessed with her beauty. In folklore, it is believed that even though Chang'E is in heaven now and lives on the moon, she still misses Hou-yi and the mortal beings she left behind on earth. Therefore, it is hoped by praying to her, she will bless and look after us.
If you wish to know more about the origin of the mooncake and the legend of Chang'E in relation to the Mid Autumn Festival, please read my 2009 post here.
I wonder if anyone has heard of or remember an ancient folklore about The Old Man of The Moon (月下老人) or the God of Marriage. He lives on the moon and keeps a record book of the names of all newborns. He is the only one who knows everyone's future life partner. It is believed that marriages are made in heaven and prepared on the moon and he holds the key to the answers. Well, some people prayed to him hoping that he will grant their wishes.