The Mid-Autumn Festival is a popular traditional Chinese festival, probably the second biggest one after the Spring Festival. It is held on the lunar August 15th, close to the middle of the autumn, so called “Mid-Autumn”.
The day is also known as the Moon Festival, as at that time of the year, the moon is at its fullest and brightest. On that day, families get together to appreciate the moon and eat mooncakes together, hence it is called “Festival of Reunion”.
The day is also considered a harvest festival, since it falls in between late September and early October based on the Western calendar, a cool and perfect time to celebrate the harvest which has just concluded.
There are a number of folklores and legends regarding to the origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival, but the most widely accepted tale is the story of Hou Yi and Chang E.
It is said that in ancient times there were 10 suns coexisting in the sky, blazing the earth, drying rivers and lakes, scorching all crops and driving people to starvation. To save the world from misery, a great archer named Hou Yi ascended to the top of the Kunlun Mountain and shot down nine superfluous suns. Hou Yi’s extraordinary deeds won the love and respect of the populace. People came from far and wide to learn from him, including Peng Meng, an evil man.
Because of his heroic feat, Hou Yi was rewarded an elixir of immortality, which allowed one to ascend immediately to heaven and become a celestial being.
Unwilling to leave his wife, a beautiful girl named Chang E, Hou Yi handed the elixir to Chang E. Chang E hid the parcel in a treasure box at her dresser when, unexpectedly, it was seen by Peng Meng.
One day when Hou Yi was out hunting, Peng Meng, sword in hand, broke into Chang E’s room and demanded her to hand over the elixir. Aware that she was unable to defeat Peng Meng, Chang E turned around, took up the elixir and swallowed it. As soon as she swallowed the elixir, Chang E started to float into the sky toward the Moon.
After returning home at night and learning what had happened, Hou YI was grief stricken. He called out Chang E’s name to the sky. To his surprise, he found that the moon was especially clear and bright and on it he saw a swaying silhouette similar to that of his wife.
To express his love for his beloved wife now separated from him, Hou Yi placed an incense table in the back garden and put Chang E’s favorite fresh fruits onto the table.
Informed of the news, other people followed Hou Yi’s lead, praying kindhearted Chang E and courageous Hou Yi would reunite someday. From then on, the custom of worshiping the moon and anticipating a family reunion on the mid-autumn day has been widespread.
For a fantastic children’s book to introduce the Moon Festival to yours kids, check out Lin-Yi’s Lantern by Barefoot Books. It’s a favorite among kids with beautiful illustrations and an original story.