The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival

The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival

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TheChinese Mid-Autumn Festival

Culturalfestivals are mainly initiated to create a platform for people from aparticular cultural group to celebrate a special aspect of theirculture or tradition. Cultural celebrations date back to thebeginning of humankind. The significance of cultural festivals isbased on the notion that people need to know certain ideas throughexperience for such ideas to have prolific effects in the community(Powell 1). In addition, organizing period cultural festivals ensuresthat certain cultural ideas and beliefs are passed on from onegeneration to the next one. This paper will analyze the ChineseMid-Autumn Festival with a focus on its origin, cultural meaning,modern celebration, courtship, and games performed to enhance thesignificance of the festival.

Historicalbackground the festival

Theorigin of the Mid-Autumn Festival can be dated back to Zhou Dynasty,which existed between 1046 and 256 BC (Travel China 1). The festivalwas started by the Chinese who identified a relationship between themovement of the moon and agricultural production as well as seasons.The founders of the festival started the sacrificial ceremony tothank the moon, which they believed that it was responsible for theiragricultural practice. Initially, the Mid-Autumn Festival sacrificeswere made by the royal class, who had no intention organizingfestivals. However, the Chinese achieved significant socialprosperity during the Sui and Tang dynasties, which motivated them tostart periodic festivals to thank the moon. This called theestablishment of a fixed day for the festivals, where people settledon August 15thin the lunar calendar of the Chinese people (Travel China 1). Thefestival became a widely celebrated cultural event during theNorthern Song Dynasty and it is still ranked among the mostsignificant festivals among the Chinese community.

Meaningsof the Mid-Autumn Festival

Thefestival of Mid-Autumn is based on three major concepts. The firstconcept is thanksgiving, which is accomplished when families orfriends come together and offer sacrifices as a sign of giving thanksto the moon (Travel China 2). Thanksgiving is the fundamental conceptthat motivated the Chinese to start the festival of Mid-Autumn afterdiscovering the relationship that existed between the crop seasonsand the movement of the moon.

Thesecond concept is gathering where the festival provides a reason forpeople to come together. The concept of gathering can be attributedto the social development that was achieved during the Tang and Suidynasties (Travel China 1). Therefore, the festival provided theChinese with an opportunity to socialize and share ideas.

Thethird concept on which the Mid-Autumn festival is based is the ideaof praying. The Chinese people organized the Mid-Autumn Festival togive them an opportunity to reflect on the generosity of the moon,give thanks by offering sacrifices, and pray for a bumper foodharvest in the forthcoming seasons (Travel China 1). In addition, theChinese people took advantage of the festival to pray for otherthings, including spouses, children, beauty, good future, andlongevity.

Theconcept of moon worship

Althoughthe idea of starting up the Mid-Autumn festival was based on thethree aforementioned concepts (including thanksgiving, gathering, andpraying), the primary belief of the founders of the ceremony isfounded on respect that they had on the moon. The ancient people ofChina believed that rejuvenation was associated with water and themoon (Li 124). These people linked to this concept of rejuvenation towomen’s menstruation, which they called the monthly water. TheChinese believe that the moon and the sun are a couple, while thatstars are their children. Consequently, there comes a time when themoon becomes pregnant (the round shaped moon) before taking acrescent shape after giving birth. This type of belief gives asufficient conviction for the Chinese people to worship the moonduring this evening. There are several customs that each of the moonworshippers is expected to observe during the festival. Friends andfamily members come together to offer sacrifices, express theirappreciation to the bright moon, yearnings towards friends and familymembers living in distant lands, and eat the moon cakes together (Li125).

Customsobserved by worshipers

Lightingof lanterns

Participantsof the Mid-Autumn festival light lanterns, which may be raised ontowers of floated in the sky. At times the some riddles are writtenon lanterns, where other participants guess the answers (Yang 263).The use of bright lanterns started during the Tang Dynasty. Lanternsare traditionally used by the Chinese to symbolize fertility.Lanterns that were used by ancient Chinese took the shapes of naturalobjects or images, but they now take different shapes, which is anindication that the moon worshippers have been influencedsignificantly by the neighboring communities and integrated thecultures of other people into their traditional practices.

Mooncake and its cultural significance

Participantsof the Mid-Autumn festival make and share moon cake, which serves asthe hallmark of the celebrations. The moon cake takes a round shape,which symbolizes unity and completeness among the Chinese (Stepanchuk1). This implies that preparing and sharing round cakes is believedto bring unity and completeness among friends and families. In mostof the Chinese families, the moon cake is prepared on the night ofthe Mid-Autumn festival, after which the senior member of the familydivides the cake into pieces before distributing those pieces to therest of the family members, which enhances unity in the family.Worshippers may also pile 13 moon cakes, which symbolizes the 13months of the Chinese lunar year.

Matchmakingand courtship

Marriagesignifies the fertility of a given community. The Chinese communitiesthat take part in the Mid-Autumn festivals take advantage of theevent to celebrate their marriage and create a platform for youths toidentify their future spouses. For example, Chinese young ladiesthrough a handkerchief in the crowd where the young men who findreturn it gets a chance to engage in a romantic relationship with thelady who threw the handkerchief (University of California 93). Thenew friends take a private moment to exchange song verses and try toknow each other. In most cases, this relationship develops tomarriage.


Culturalfestivals create a platform for communities to celebrate theirbeliefs and pass those beliefs to their posterity. The Mid-Autumnfestival that originated in China allows the Chinese to share theculture of worshipping the moon and have passed on that culturalpractice for ages. The arts of cultures and worship are enshrined inthe concepts (including thanksgiving, prying, and gathering) on whichthe Mid-Autumn festival is based on. All practices surrounding thefestivals are symbolic. For example, the round moon cake symbolizesthe unity as well as the completeness of the family.


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Universityof California. InKendall, Laurel, Vietnam: Journeys of Body, Mind, and Spirit.Oakland: University of California Press.

Yang,L. China’s Mid-Autumn day. Journalof Folklore Research43 (2006): 263–270.