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You are here: Home > Chinese Festivals Calendars & Info > Moon Festival > Chinese Moon Festival Background

Chinese Moon Festival Background

The Moon Festival, also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, falls on the 15th day of the 8th Lunar Month.  It is based on the lunar calendar and is the first full moon in September usually.  In 2008, it falls on September 14th.  It is in the middle of Autumn and is a harvest festival.  (Wheat is traditionally harvested in the North, and rice in the South of China.)  It's the Chinese equivalent of American Thanksgiving. In rural China, the Moon Festival celebrated a bountiful harvest, as the first Thanksgiving did for the Pilgrims.

Legend of the Moon Festival

Lady Chang Er

The legend of Lady Chang Er, daughter of the River God, dates back to around 2170 BC.  Her husband, Hou Yi, shoots down the 9 extra suns that were threatening the Earth.  As a reward, he was given an elixir of life by the Yellow Emperor.  Unfortunately he became a tyrant, and  Lady Chang Er to her their people.  It is said that Lady Chang Er took the elixir of life.  Some say the elixir was a potion, in one story it's a pill, and another a magic peach.  

Another version has her wanting to be immortal too, and she steals the pill of the elixir of life. After eating it, she floats up to the moon.  She coughs the pill, but out comes the Jade Rabbit, also known as the white rabbit and Moon Hare.  The Jade Rabbit has ever since tried to make the immortality potion.  Hou Yi became the god of the sun, and is allowed once each month, on the full moon, to visit his wife. Legend says it is on this day when the Moon shines brightest because of their love.  The Moon Festival is also a time traditionally for family gatherings and reading Moon Poetry. Many people looking at the moon see a rabbit on the moon.
Tang Emperor Xuan Zong 

Another legend is the Tang Emperor Xuan Zong had the help of a Taoist priest, who threw up his walking stick that created a bridge to the moon.  The emperor followed the priest up the bridge and entered the moon palace, where he saw the jade rabbit attempting to make the elixir of life. The emperor saw moon maidens dancing and singing music.  On his return, he created a song and dance piece called "Rainbow Petticoats and Feather Dresses".

Wu Gang, the Moon's Woodcutter

Another legend is of Wu Gang, the Moon's Woodcutter.  He tries again and again to cut down the Moon's tree of immortality, that just magically heals after every chop.  He was sentenced to this by the Jade Emperor for selfishly seeking the elixir of immortality.  

Traditional Food eaten during the Moon Festival

Taro, Pomelo (Chinese Grapefruit), and Snails.  The Taro because it saved Chinese soldiers from starvations, Pomelo because the sweet fruit is believed to scare off evil and it has a round shape.  Snails as a reminder of the earth's wealth.  Dishes served should be 5, 7, or 9 because these are lucky yang numbers.

Moon Cakes

Moon Cakes symbolize both longevity and good health.  They are imprinted with the Moon Goddess, a grove, Jade Rabbit, or a toad.  The centers can contain red bean paste (sweet), lotus seed paste, melon, dried fruits, coconut, pineapple, and often have an egg inside.  In the 14th Century, messages were contained within the Moon Cakes for secret communication against for a rebellion against the ruling Mongols (Yuan Dynasty founded by Kublai  Khan) that replace them with the Ming Dynasty.  Moon Cakes are credited with the victory.

Moon Cake Symbolizes

  • The yolk symbolizes the moon.  
  • Moon Cakes are round like the moon.
  • The circle (shape of the Moon Cake)  is a symbol of harmony.  
  • The round shape also stands for family unity
  • The round shape symbolizes the cycle of life
  • Connects the past, present, and future
  • Long life and good health

Celebrating the Moon Festival

There are many Moon festivals and concerts in the US and Canada that people go to. Moon Cakes are sold by Chinese Bakeries and given as gifts by business for consumption on the day of the Moon Festival. Moon Poetry is also read under the full moon. Children used to buy different kinds of clay toys.

Future Dates:

  • October 3, 2009
  • September 22, 2009
  • September 22, 2010
  • September 12, 2011
  • September 30, 2012
  • September 19, 2013
  • September 8, 2014
  • September 27, 2015

Other Moon Festival Resources:

Do you remember how excited you were when you were a kid as a holiday approaches?
These Moon Festival stories will also help build up the kids' anticipation for Moon Festival.


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