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..... Author unknown.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mid Autumn Festival 2010 and Water Caltrops

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 @ on September 22nd 2010.

Scientific name: Trapa nutans
Common name: Water caltrop, European water chestnuts, bull's horns. 
Family: Lythraceae

The Chinese name is "ling kok" (Cantonese) or líng jiǎo (菱角), líng meaning "caltrop" and jiǎo meaning "horn."

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).

Paper lanterns in front of a shop at Pasir Pinji, Ipoh

Children love these lanterns. That was what I loved to play when I was a kid. After dinner, we would take out our colourful paper lanterns and gather with friends where we set out in groups, parading our lanterns. We love to get the adrenalin pumping by carrying our lanterns to the eerie and dark places. When suddenly somebody shouted, "Ghost!", we would scream and run for our lives, sometimes getting our lanterns burnt in the process. There were tears but also lots of laughter as well. I really enjoyed myself playing with lanterns and meeting new friends during this season. I used to dread growing up as I was worried that I won't be able to play lanterns anymore.

Which one is your favourite shape?

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.

Do you believe that marriages are made in heaven?

This is my entry for My World Tuesday, the link is here.
Also, my entry for Fertilizer Friday, the link is here.


  1. I love to eat taro/yam during Mooncake Festival! How come they are not available during other times?

  2. A Chinese-American friend of mine and I went to Boston's Chinatown on Saturday and bought mooncakes for tomorrow(it still being the 21st here). I also ended up buying some taro roots to pot up for foliage plants and we wondered why they had a huge pile of water caltrops at the market but I had no idea that these are also traditional foods for this holiday.

  3. Dear Autumn Belle, I do so enjoy reading about the festivals celebrated all over the world and the one you feature here is so interesting and colourful. I too should love the lanterns but I am less sure of the water caltrops.....delicious I am certain in the right hands!!

  4. Happy mooncake festival! When I was small I always look forward during this festive season to follow my parents to Klang and choose my own lantern so I can play with my neighbours. My friends has gave me many mooncakes this year.So yummy.

  5. Autumn Belle...I adore the lanterns, I have been looking for some to buy for my back patio pergola. They would look splendid at Christmas time around the garden. I also love the crunchy water chestnut. I can only get them in tins this side of the world. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

  6. Wow "lantern mountain lantern sea" lanterns all over haha.. nice lovely pixz and an interesting 'autumnly' post. Nowadays the lanterns are all characters from movies or cartoon comic. Hardly can see the dragon, rabbit etc..tQ

  7. I have played lantern when i was young! happy mid Autumn to you!
    Anyway i have invited you for a game. Check out my blog!

  8. Great post! I really had no time to visit anywhere..enjoy the food,

  9. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival, though it is a quiet one.

  10. I love the snow skin type. How about you? Lovely photos and story. I am impressed. The tourism dept should look for you.

  11. Autumn Belle: I have been very busy these days, and not able to visit and comment the blogs as much as I would like to. But I want you know that I enjoyed your mid-autumn festival posts very much, and just linked to your post from my new post about mid-autumn festival.

  12. Hello Autumn Belle thankyou for sharing this ever so colourful festival on line with your photos. The lanterns are so beautiful hanging from the ceiling of that retail outlet and its lovely reading about your memories of the festival as a child.

  13. Autumn Belle, thanks for this lovely post on Mid-Autumn Festival. I am ashamed to say that I have completely forgotten about this festival! My daughter is the midst of her exam and this has totally slipped from my mind! Will have to make up for it this weekend! I would like to believe that marriages are indeed made in heaven!

  14. Happy Autumn Festival to you Autumn Belle... your time of year! I love all the lanterns ... I love their glow. I love the myths and stories you share here. I did not know to pray to the moon to have the right partner come my way! Thanks for that knowledge! ;>)

  15. Hi Autumn Belle, as always it's a joy to read about Malaysian customs in your posts. It's interesting that there seem to be harvest-time festivals involving lanterns throughout the world. As far as marriages being made in heaven - that sounds a little "on the moon" to me!

  16. It is intriguing to think that my marriage was made in heaven. I would like to believe that, it is a wonderful thought! Maybe less people would divorce if they believed it.

    Some day, I am going to eat a moon cake. Somehow.
    Some day, you can maybe find reeses pieces!

  17. Great shots! I love this holiday because of the colours and the interesting food.

    thanks for dropping by my blog!

  18. I like this article about lantern festival and water caltrops.
    I thought the water caltrops already 'missing' here, because i never seen it sold many years ago. The taste is Malay community they call 'Kacang Tanduk'...

  19. looks like great place to see!

  20. Happy moon festival!
    Beautiful Photos.
    It must be great to participate in the festival, in japan we have it too, just in less scale. Too bad I couldn't be there because I was in Mexico this year, but maybe the next one.

    PS: thanks for the comment on my blog

  21. Hi Autumn Belle,
    Very nice blog you have. And all very well written. Seems like you are everywhere to take pics, haha.
    "jishiben" is 记事本 in chinese, means diary/journal. Thanks for visiting and following my blog.
    Happy belated Mid-Autumn Festival to you.


  22. Hi Autumn Belle, what a fascinating account of your festival...thank you...

  23. Hi Autumn Belle. What an interesting and informative posting. It is so fun to read about the celebration and customs. The lanterns are so pretty. It is also interesting to see that those cartoon characters do get around. LOL!

  24. The moon is revered and celebrated in many cultures. There are many songs and poems written about the moon. this is such a nice festival and the decorations are beautiful. A lovely time for friends and family to come together and celebrate. Here in Australia we are a multicultural society and I am glad about it.
    I also enjoyed the post about the Pomelo, I grow a tree in the orchard; it is a very tasty fruit.Thank you for your visit and I appreciate your sweet words.

  25. great post! I always thought those caltrops looked like mustaches.

    When I was little, my mom bought some of those pretty lanterns and gave them to my sister and I. They were cool and everything, but we didn't really know what to do with them. She said, "go run around", which we did - until it just turned into the two of us running around the yard with the lanterns. I think we just didn't get what you were supposed to do with them. I think as a kid growing up in China or Hong Kong (as my mom did), it would be really fun to be outdoors with tons of kids celebrating the harvest moon and playing games.

  26. Hi Autumn Belle, i am not able to comment and post these days, i moved house and still very, very tired. And that was after the kids in the hospital, i've not recovered fully. But i try to visit here once-in-a-while, but not to many blogs anymore. I realized most of the Chinese traditions have become very commercialized already, from fengshui to mooncake festivals, to Christmas, New Years, etc. It is not different here from your part of the world.

  27. Hello Autumn Belle thanks for sharing your childhood memories of the moon festival. The lanterns are beautiful. I wasn't able to get any mooncakes this year, by the time i remembered they were all gone.

  28. I always loved those roots. If properly cooked they are so tasty.
    Lovely and colourful lanterns.

  29. your posts are always so interesting to read!!! thanks for sharing with us...and for linking in this week!


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