Fall is the season for Moon Festival parties. The event celebrates the harvest moon, when the crops
have been gathered and heavy work in the fields is over. In 2001, the festival took place October 1, but preparations began weeks before.
The symbolism of various animals plays an important part in the ritual. For example, a carp that
swam up the Yellow River through the Tung Kuan rapids and became a dragon will stimulate a scholar to
put forth the effort to study to pass examinations. The butterfly conveys a wish for longevity and the
red lobster brings mirth.
During the Moon Festival, all types of lanterns and especially colorful, animal-shaped paper
lanterns decorate houses. Moon Festival altars are adorned with five dishes of round fruits,
such as apples, peaches, pomegranates, grapes and small melons. The round shape symbolizes the moon,
as well as family unity.
Another popular feature of the festival are moon cakes, which are stored in beautiful lacquer boxes
constructed in various animal shapes. During the celebration, moon cakes are piled high 13 in a
pyramid to represent the 13 lunar months in the Chinese calendar year.
Confectioners start baking the cakes, which are made with gray, moon-colored flour, as much as a
month before the festival, In fact, some bakers make all their profits for the year from moon cake
In Hong Kong and many part of China, women join clubs with certain confectioners. The moment the
Moon Festival is over, they start making small monthly contributions that accumulate in their accounts
for the purchase of moon cakes the following season.
On the night of the festival, families gather to relax, give thanks, celebrate family unity and
view the moon. A banquet is typically held at midnight.
Cloudy weather ruins enjoyment of the Moon Festival, and an eclipse is a disaster, but if all goes
well, the event is alive with magical tradition, including music, dancing and worship, high energy and
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Autumn Harvest Moon Festival: Another Moon Festival Story
The Chinese celebration known as the Moon Festival is celebrated on the fifteen day of the eighth
month on the lunar calendar. On the lunar calendar, the first day of every month is the new moon, and the fifteenth day of every month is the day of
the full moon. The fifteenth day of the lunar month
usually corresponds to within one day of the full moon on the Gregorian/Western calendar. In the year 2000, the Moon Festival was on September 12.
As a child growing up in San Franciscos Chinatown, I remember my mother buying moon cakes
and bringing them home for us to eat. My favorite was the lotus root paste filling with the 1000
year old (fermented duck) egg yolk. It had a taste of sweet from the lotus root paste and a taste of
salt from the egg yolk. While growing up, I never really understood the meaning or the reasons for
the celebration, but was just happy to eat the moon cakes.
With most Chinese, the Moon Festival is celebrated by going out at night and viewing the full moon and
contemplating about the moon goddess/fairy that lives up there. While growing up, my father
repeatedly told us another story, one of more historical significance, concerning the Moon Festival. I
will try to repeat what he had told us.
Towards the end of the Yuan Dynasty (during the Mongolian rule of China, first established by Genghis
Khan), the Han Chinese majority were tired of Mongolian rule. In the North, there lived a man by the
surname of Zhu (or Chu in some Romanization schemes, and no relation to the author as Zhu was from a
northern branch of the Chu/Gee family tree), who was the leader of a revolutionary group. The plans
he made called for a signal during the Moon Festival for the revolutionaries to take the only knife
allowed for every town and overthrow the Mongols. This signal ended up being a message placed in Moon
Cakes, much in the same manner of fortune cookies of the modern day. After the overthrow of the
Mongols, Zhu became the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty.
By Don S. Gee
More About the Moon Festival
One of the CHCP board members compares the Moon Festival to the American Thanksgiving, an annual
family get together.
For a photo of a moon cake:
The following is from Chinese Gastronomy by Hsiang Ju Lin and Tsuifeng Lin. Pyramid
Communications, New York, 1972:
The full moon, the crab, chrysanthemums and wine formed a poetic complement with
some indulging in one, and others in the cakes shaped like the moon. Once again families exchanged
near-identical gifts, buying these cakes from shops making essentially the same cakes, and giving them
to each other.
According to the authors, the moon cakes were filled with sweet red bean paste or crushed lotus
seeds embedded with a salted cooked ducks egg. They compare moon cakes to plum pudding and fruit
cake, equally heavy English holiday traditions.