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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mid Autumn Festival 2009

On Saturday, October 3rd this year, Chinese around the world will celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhongqiu Jie -中秋節) . It is also known as Moon Cake Festival or Lantern Festival. It falls on the 15th day of the 8th month of the chinese lunar calendar. We believe that on this day, the moon will be at its fullest and brightest. This festival originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. In those days, China was very much an agricultural society and this day occur after the autumn harvest. So, during a clear night with fine weather, many people celebrated by holding post harvest feasts. On this same day, Koreans celebrate the Chuseok while in Vietnam, it is celebrated as Tet Trung Thu.

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.

Traditional lanterns are in the shape of birds, fishes, butterflies, animals and mythical dragons while the modern ones look like our latest cartoon characters such as Doraemon and Pokemon with Ben 10, being the latest craze among children here. Traditional lanterns are made of paper and uses wax candles while the modern ones are made of plastic and battery operated with music, lights and movement. They are so many choices available.

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.

The picture above is a sample of how a traditional mooncake looks like. The skin has auspicious pictures and words. Can you see the salted duck egg yolk, melon seeds and lotus seed paste filling inside?

This is a snow skin moon cake, my favourite. Mooncakes with its round shape symbolises family unity and togetherness. It is customary to buy mooncakes as gifts to family, friends and close relatives during this season. Now this custom has extended to corporate-clients level. Mooncakes are packaged in beautifully designed gift boxes made of paper, wood or metal.

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
b) filling - lotus seed paste, dates, red bean, mung bean, egg yolks, mellon seeds, sesame, mixed fruits, nuts, ham, jelly, tiramisu, no egg yolk, single yolk, double yolk, multiple yolk!

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.

Extra pastry from the mooncake making process are made into these cute mini biscuits in the shape of the lucky wealth cat and mythical lion. Other auspicious symbols are fishes, dragons and pigs. Children would like them.

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.

The pomelo fruit is also a must have here. Pomelos are native to South East Asia and the most famous ones comes from fruit orchards in Tambun, Ipoh. This fruit is usually in season during The Mid Autumn Festival.

In the old days, children come out after dusk, carrying brightly coloured lanterns and have fun roaming the streets and dark corners in groups. On the main day of the festival, families will gather together to perform prayers at night i.e. after the moon is visible in the sky. Some of the offerings are mooncakes, tea, pomelo, taro root or baby yam, water caltrop (leng kok), goundnuts, oranges, incense and joss sticks. After the prayer sessions, family and friends will have a good time enjoying the food amidst some chatter and laughter while children played with lighted candles and lanterns under the moonlight.

 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.
  1. 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.
2. The story of mooncakes
      • 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.
To all my friends around the world, I wish you happy harvesting and Happy Mid-Autumn. I will be going to Ipoh to attend a wedding on this auspicious day.

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.


  1. Oh I love all the photos of mooncakes, they are all unique and I would have a hard time deciding which one. Thanks for the culture lesson, you tell the stories well.
    Have a wonderful time at that wedding. Did I tell you congrats yet? Way to go!!!

  2. I love hearing about your culture. This post was so informational. I love the folklore stories too, especially the Chang-E tale. Thanks for sharing!

  3. As kids, we really looked forward to this festival. Ah Lian, our neighbor of some 200 meters away, never miss to give us moon cakes... we just called them Kueh Bulan... Round, yellow and sweet cakes. Cheers ~bangchik

  4. 中秋節快樂.

    And you have a very good post on this mid autumn festival, 中秋節.

  5. Thank you for your post of this wonderful festival. I have 3 adopted children from China and we try to celebrate their native festivals.

  6. This is fantastic and that moon cake looks amazing. Love the lanterns etc... They are all so beautiful.

  7. What an interesting post thank you.

  8. Thank you so much for bringing this traditional story to us. I've tasted many mooncakes and I do enjoy them. We just had a moon festival here in San Francisco about a week ago in Chinatown. It was so much fun. I love all the cultural traditions and meanings behind these festivals. While in Hong Kong I immersed myself in the culture and it brought so much peace and inspiration to me. Thanks again for sharing this with all of us.

  9. So this is why you chose the name Autumn Belle? Love your fascinating post. Thank you.

  10. What an interesting post and I love all of the color in the booths and around. I think I gained two pounds just looking at all of the yummy deserts. ;-)

  11. Delighted to have a moment to check out your site and this amazing post ... thank you for sharing. I leave in awe ...

  12. Thanks so much for posting these stories and all the photos of the mooncakes! I have been enjoying mooncakes myself this past week! We have a Maria's Bakery here (I think it was originally a Hong Kong baker). I think mooncakes are definitely an acquired taste. I thought they were nasty and foul until I became and adult and could appreciate the little bit of salted duck egg with each bite. There are a lot of different varieites, but I like the lotus paste with the duck egg in the middle. One thing I might add is that they're VERY expensive - at least around here. One mooncake the size of the palm of your hand is about $6. My daughter tried to spit her bite out the other day and I was like, that is 50 cents worth! You better eat it!

    I'm really happy you shared the story of the rebellion, especially since the details of it were really foggy for me. THat's my FAVORITE FAVORITE story from childhood. I love any story about rebellion.

    When it's time to eat those little sticky rice things wrapped in leaves, I'll be depending on you to tell that story as well!!!

  13. I remember now that I used to play with these lantern - that time, it was more like goldfish or ziodac animals.

    I aslo got fascinated with the caltrop. Someone in my office passed the boiled one and that me that its known as "Dragon's horns"
    I had kept the shells as its quite unique.

    I never realised that it got to do with Mid-Autumn Festival. It surprised me that a man walked on the moon can change the whole prespective.

    Regardless, the moon is always mystical - the mysteries and the legends are always fascinating.
    Happy Mid-Autumn Festival.

  14. Hi Autumnbelle, I like that butterfly lantern there. I look forward to the mooncakes more than anything. I love the one with mixed nuts and lotus egg yolks. I do miss the leng kok this year as we did not buy them. But at one year, we had guests coming to our house. The children will have a fun time lighting up lanterns and the adults, we had lots of good food and fruits to finish up. Have a wonderful festive weekend!

  15. Autumn Belle, Happy Mid Autumn Festival! Your story of mooncakes is so interesting! I didn't know about this but only till now in your nice garden :D

  16. Great Festival photos, Autumn Belle! I haven't had moon cake in a few years but now you're making me want one! I love the sweet and salty varieties. Hope you have a great time at the wedding and took some pictures to share with us ;)

  17. The moon cakes are so beautiful. Thank you for the great Autumn Festival post and photos.

  18. Have a wonderful Zhongqiu Jie Autumn Belle. Do you make the moon-cakes at home too? If so, next year you must let us have some recipes and we can all join in.

    Just came in to say thank you for your congrats. And what do you mean you're embarrassed about coming last? Last??! You were fifth out of more than 1,500 blogs. if that's not a reason to be proud, then I don't know what is ... Anyway, you certainly got some of my votes.

  19. Thanks Autumn Belle, it was fascinating to read about this festival, your description brought it to life for me. The butterfly lanterns look beautiful. But why did the lunar landings change your prayers? Didn't they expand our dreams and hopes?

  20. Rosey, Jessica, Rainfield61, Flowrgirl1, Joanne, Lona, Joey, Lynn Scholl,
    Thank you very much for the sweet comments and happy wishes.

    Bangchik, the great thing about living in a multi-racial society is that we get to enjoy so many festivals the whole year round. After eating lemang, now we have mooncake, next we will be feasting on chapatti, putumayam and briyani. Oooh, I can’t wait for Deepavali to come.

    Noelle, I think you have a very interesting family. Cheers to you for being such a kind hearted soul to give 3 lucky children the love and care they otherwise will miss out on.

    Joanne, the poetic shutterbug. Its great to hear your experience and I perfectly agree with you.

    Pam, so now you know how Autumn Belle came about. Smart lady.

    Wendy, I guess you are right about the acquired taste especially the traditional mooncakes. Many of my friends of other races do not like the egg yolk. Its kind of like yucks to them too. Maybe that’s why the bakers came up with tiramisu, ice-cream and other delicious fillings. And yes, mooncakes are expensive here too, at RM 13.00 for half my palm size! Regarding the ‘sticky rice things’, I think you mean dumplings or ‘chang festival’. Hey that’s in the 5th lunar month, still a long way to go, my dear. The next festival is the winter solstice or tung but with another type of dumplings.

    James, I hope you have tried eating the caltrop then. It tastes kind of powdery.

    Rainfield, Sandy, Stephanie, I hope you had a wonderful time during this mid-autumn.

    Lynn, weddings are such happy occasions, its great to be part of the joy and laughter among family and friends. I have pictures but I still can’t figure out how to include in my garden blog!

    Sue, thank you for your festive greetings and kind words. I will include a link to kuali for the recipes. Just type the word ‘mooncake in the search box’ and you will get not one, but many recipes.

    Yan, I am so glad you asked me this question. Actually the lunar landings changed many people’s perspective but not mine. I have been asked innumerable times why do I still pray to the moon. Until I can give them a concrete answer, I cannot elaborate further. I like the way you said ‘ didn’t they expand our dreams and hopes?’ It’s like ‘bingo!’ to me. Thanks to you for that.

  21. Yap when i read this whole post, i was really amused. Moon cakes are awesome.

  22. Khabbab, thank for the visit. I hope you have tried mooncakes too.


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