Mid-autumn Festival Is a Magical Way to Celebrate the Full Harvest Moon — Here's How to Join In

Fresh moon cake just baked still hot

The full moon that occurs nearest to the autumnal equinox is significant to people around the world. In many countries, the lunar event is recognized as the Harvest Moon, lighting the night for farmers working in their fields. In many Asian countries, the full moon that many believe is the brightest of the year is celebrated as Mid-Autumn Festival with a variety of customs that include family reunions, special foods, mooncakes, and lanterns.

Mid-autumn festival is observed in China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, which usually falls in mid-September or early October. This year, the full moon date is Oct. 1, and in a rare occurrence in 2020, there will be another full moon on Halloween, Oct. 31. (The next October Blue Moon, or second full moon in the same calendar month, will be in 2039.)

Residents of Tai Hang perform the Fire Dragon Dance to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival in Tai Hang area on September 8, 2014 in Hong Kong, China.

Mid-autumn Festival Traditions

Festival customs vary among countries, but most focus on family gatherings, special foods, lanterns, and offerings to the moon. In South Korea, the celebration lasts three days, and many people travel to reunite with relatives. In Taiwan, Mid-autumn festival is a national holiday, with eating of mooncakes and pomelo, a large citrus related to grapefruit. In Vietnam, it’s called “Children’s Festival,” and youngsters carry lanterns as they watch lion dances and feast on mooncakes. Singapore’s Chinatown and Gardens by the Bay feature lantern displays and both traditional and modern versions of mooncakes.

The round, filled mooncakes are elaborately decorated, often with patterns depicting the legends of the festival. People give mooncakes as gifts and serve them at family gatherings. Said to have become a Mid-autumn Festival tradition during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD), the cookies symbolize the full moon. The fillings may be traditional lotus seed paste, egg yolk, bean paste, or more recently chocolate, truffles, foie gras, or even ice cream.

The Legend of the Autumn Full Moon Festival

An ancient Chinese legend connected with the festival involves a hero named Hou Yi who shot down nine of the 10 suns that were overheating the earth, earning himself a reward from the Goddess of the Heavens. She gave him a special elixir that would enable him to ascend to the heavens and become a god. Hou Yi’s beautiful wife, Chang’e, in an effort to protect the elixir from an evil man, drank it herself and flew to the moon along with a rabbit sent to accompany her. The brokenhearted Hou Yi placed his wife’s favorite foods on his table every year afterwards on the day of the fullest moon, hoping she would appear.

People take a ride on boats at dusk to release paper-lanterns for good luck during the mid-autumn festival down the Thu Bon river

A New Netflix film Is Based on the Legend

This fall, Netflix will release ″Over the Moon,″ a computer animated musical based on the legend. A young girl named Fei Fei, sad over the loss of her mother, is enthralled with the legend and hopes to meet the Moon Goddess. The clever girl builds a rocket ship to take her to the moon along with her toy rabbit, an allusion to Yutu, the rabbit who accompanied Chang’e to the moon.

The film, animated by Sony Pictures Imageworks and produced by Pearl Studios, features the song “Rocket to the Moon,” bound to become a hit with the film’s fans. Screenwriter Audrey Wells (″The Truth About Cats and Dogs,″ ″George of the Jungle,″ ″A Dog’s Purpose," "Under the Tuscan Sun") wrote the script before her death in 2018.

Lady M Lantern with Mooncakes

This year, Lady M, maker of gourmet cakes, has created a limited-edition lantern in collaboration with Netflix and Pearl Studios to celebrate the Mid-autumn Festival and ″Over the Moon" film. The keepsake lantern actually glows to highlight its intricate gold and jade green designs. Just click the button, and patterns of the Moon Goddess and other mythical figures appear.

In keeping with tradition, the lantern contains six miniature mooncakes, three sweet egg custard, and three chocolate custard mooncakes. Made in partnership with Kee Wah Bakery, the chocolate custard mooncakes are decorated with the mythical moon rabbit, and the egg custard mooncakes feature a stamp of the classic Lady M logo. The uniquely designed lantern is paired with a matching gift bag and greeting card for Mid-autumn Festival gift giving.

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