One of the things we love about living in China is learning about the many festivals. Events such as the Chinese New Year and the Dragon Boat Festival have a whole new meaning for us. Not only is it the folklore and stories behind the festivals, or the colors and decorations, but it’s the many kinds of unique foods that accompany each festival.
Last week we added a new festival to our list of experiences, the Mid-Autumn Festival.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Han Chinese calendar (typically the full moon night between early September and early October). It is technically a harvest type of festival, but has evolved into a very important Chinese heritage festival.
We were fortunate to have this holiday coincide with China National Day later in the week, so we actually had a week off from work! So we decided to spend the first few days of our holiday back in a place we thoroughly enjoyed visiting, Macau; because there is so much more to do in Macau than casinos!
We were excited to return to Macau because we had so much fun during our last visit, and we didn’t get to see it all! Plus, Macau’s International Fireworks Festival was taking place.
Each year during the month of September, Macau is host to the largest fireworks festivals in the world. But it’s actually a competition. Some of the best experts in fireworks displays and major shows from all over the world are invited to put on a show. Each Sunday night they have two different shows, and spectators get to vote on their favorite as the winner!
On the night we were there, we got to see two spectacular twenty minute fireworks shows — completely coreographed with music. The first shows was from the France team, while the second was from Austria. In total, that was 40 minutes worth of awesome fireworks! But we must admit, we both think that France won on this night.
If you ever plan to visit Macau, definitely try to coordinate your trip during the fireworks festival during the month of September — it was really a lot of fun! They also had a “carnival” each night before the fireworks near the Macau Tower. Here you could watch some entertainment, enjoy some local “fair food” and even play some games. We really had a great time!
Okay, So Back to the Mid Autumn Festival…
As with any Chinese festival, there are many stories and mythical legends that go along with it – especially for kids. For the mid-Autumn festival, one of those stories is the story of Chang Er.
The Story of Chang Er
In short, her husband Hou Yi saved the kingdom long ago and a Jade Empress gave him a pill of immortality. He didn’t want to take the pill, because he adored his wife and would miss her terribly. So he gave it to his wife for safe keeping.
But while Hou Yi was out hunting one day, and evil man came to take the pill from Cheng Er. He vowed to do terrible things once he was immortal. Unable to fight him off, Cheng Er swallowed the pill – and immediately became a deity and floated into the heavens. She was so sad to be leaving her husband, that she landed on the closest thing to the Earth, the moon, so that she could be nearest him.
Heartbroken, Hou Yi built and altar and worshipped the moon and gazed up at it, where he could see the figure of his wife. Chang Er is not completely alone on the moon, she has a Jade Rabbit with her.
But that’s a whole other story about how the rabbit came to live on the moon too!
Every year during the Mid-Autumn festival, the moon is celebrated and admired.
Families gather on this day for BBQs, and activities. In the evening, they take a walk or sit in the park and gaze at the moon. Lights and lanterns fill the parks and the streets, and both adults and children light hand-held lanterns and walk about. We saw many little rabbit lanterns, to represent Chang Er’s pet on the moon.
They also eat a special food, called “mooncakes.”
There are so many different kinds of mooncakes out there — from sweet and savory ones with fruits or nuts, or those filled with meat and other foods such as red bean. Here in Guangzhou, the traditional Cantonese version is a salted egg. It doesn’t taste salty or eggy — but rather, sweet and very rich.
There is an egg yolk in the middle…which we didn’t like (that part tasted dry and salty). These are eaten because when you break them open, they kind of look like the moon in the sky on this special night.
There is of course a legend behind the mooncakes too.
They say that Chang Er was yearning to meet her husband again, so she instructed him to make a cake of flour as round as the moon, and place it at the west side of his house on the night of the full moon and call out her name. As promised, Chang Er floated down from the moon to reunite with her husband once a year on this night. As a result, mooncakes became the food most associated with this festival.
Fall is a wonderful time of year, and we really enjoyed the Mid-Autumn festival! We loved the tradition of people walking in the park, lighting lanterns, and gazing up at the moon. When you stop and enjoy it, you realize what a beautiful moon that it is.
And on this night, everyone seemed to stop and appreciate it.
The moon is the star of this evening, and it was fascinating to seeing groups of people just looking at it. Even though we were in Macau watching a fireworks festival, we found ourselves saying “Oh where is the moon? Oh there it is!”
And after the fireworks had long ended, we just sat in a park, overlooking the Macau tower and lakes, watching the families with their lanterns, and gazed up at the moon. A truly great evening!