Tales of the Mid Autumn Festival

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The Mid Autumn Festival falls this year on 1 October (15th day of the 8th month in the Chinese Lunar calendar). It is traditionally believed that on this day the moon is the fullest and brightest of the year. The Mid Autumn Festival is the traditional moon worshipping festival in China and for Buddhists around the world.

There are many fascinating and romantic legends about this festival – these three are perhaps the most famous ones, as told to me when I was a kid:

1. Chang E flew to the moon

Long, long time ago there were 10 suns in the sky and people were suffering and the crops were dying. One day, an excellent archer named Hou Yi used his bow and arrows to shoot down nine of the suns and the earth was saved. The Mother of Heaven rewarded him with elixir of life for his heroic deed. Hou Yi wanted to be immortal, but preferred to stay with his wife Chang E, so he didn’t drink it.

One day, Pang Meng, one of Hou Yi’s students tried to seize the elixir when Hou Yi was not at home. In order to stop the greedy Pang Meng, Chang E drank the elixir. She soon started to float and flew to the moon. To remember his beloved wife, Hou Yi and others started to worship the moon with many offerings.

When we were young, we were told that Chang E still lives in the moon. During Mid Autumn Festival when the moon is the brightest we kids tried to find the shape of Chang E on the moon.

2. The legend of Wu Kang

Wu Kang was a woodcutter, who had an obsession about becoming immortal. He never tried his best and never completed his chores. The Jade Emperor got angry with his impatience and laziness, and as a punishment he planted a mile-tall cherry tree on the moon and ordered Wu Kang to chop it down. If he could do that, he could return to Earth or get a chance to become immortal.

Wu Kang thought this was an easy task and a good chance for him to become immortal but little he knew, the cherry tree grew back instantly every time he chopped it down. It is believed that the shadow in the moon is the shadow of the tall cherry tree!

3. The jade rabbit

Three fairies transformed themselves to three poor old men. The went begging for food from a fox, a rabbit and a monkey. Both the monkey and fox managed to find some food and offered to the old men, but the rabbit couldn’t find any. Feeling sorry for the old man the rabbit decided to scarify himself: he would jump into a fire and offer himself to the poor old man.

The fairies were very touched by the rabbit’s act and decided to place the rabbit in the moon to live forever. As kids we were told that the rabbit is is accompanying Chang E on the moon!

Why do we eat mooncakes?

During the Yuan Dynasty China was ruled by the Mongolians.  The Chinese leader was unhappy about submitting to foreign rules and planned to set a secret rebellion. Knowing the Mid Autumn Festival was around the corner, they decided to make some special cakes and insert a paper message “uprise on the night of 15th August” inside the cakes. The uprising turned out to be successful and since then the mooncake has been an essential treat for the Mid Autumn Festival.

Where to get your mooncakes?

Today people exchange mooncakes as gifts during the festive time. There are loads of varieties of mooncakes now: from the traditional one with lotus paste filling and salted egg yolk to chocolate, green tea, pandan, red bean and even durian filling. Which one is your favourite? If you’re keen to buy some mooncakes, have a look here at our special about buying mooncakes in KL.

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