Across Asia, the Moon Festival is a huge celebration and in many countries, a public holiday too. It takes place each year on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month (i.e. September) when the moon is bright and full.
The Moon Festival goes by many other names – like Mooncake Day, Tsukimi (Japan), Mid-Autumn Festival (western cultures), and Children’s Festival or Tet Trung Thu (Vietnam).
The festival has its origins in ancient times. It’s been held since the Shang Dynasty, from about 1600 to 1046 BC. Its initial purpose was to celebrate the harvest and pay tribute to the harvest gods in the hope of seeing much harvest success over the coming year.
On the day of the festival, people traditionally give each other mooncakes. Mooncakes are round, embossed pastries filled with egg yolks, lotus paste, nuts or red beans and they are given as gifts. The gifts are meant to wish the receiver another great year of ‘harvest’ and prosperity.
In Japan, for Tsukimi, steam buns and rice cakes are often given out instead of mooncakes. Other activities include making or hanging decorations made from pampas grass and offering sweet potatoes to the full moon.
Worshipping the moon and making offerings to the lunar deity Chang’e is a big part of the Moon Festival. In Chinese myths, Chang’e stole and drank the elixir of immortality to stop it from falling into enemy hands (or her King/husband’s hands, in some versions). She fled to the moon, eventually becoming the moon’s spirit and goddess.
In Mongolia, the Moon Festival is spent literally ‘chasing the moon’ on horseback. Locals will spend the night horse riding towards the west where the moon sets, only stopping when the moon reaches the horizon.
The city of Hong Kong is flooded with mooncakes during the Moon Festival, many of them handmade, packaged in beautiful boxes and priced high. In addition to traditional fillings, it’s possible to find luxury mooncakes here filled with egg custard, duck eggs, and even black truffle.
Around the world, other cultures and cities also hold their own version of the Moon Festival. You’ll find celebrations in places like San Francisco, Manchester, Vancouver and Melbourne.
In Malaysia, the Moon Festival is celebrated with a children’s Lantern Parade and by indulging in mooncakes of various flavours, such as ice cream, coffee, cinnamon, chocolate and durian. Traditionally, younger people will give mooncake gifts to their elders, out of respect.
In Vietnam, children are at the heart of the Mooncake Festival. They make lanterns, receive mooncakes and other presents, sing and hold parades, and perform dragon, lion and flower dances in the hope of getting a treat in return.
Other than mooncakes, parades are the key attraction of the festival in Manila in the Philippines. There’s the Dragon Dance Parade, the Traditional Chinese Clothing Parade, the Lantern Parade and the Parade of Floats. Stay all day and watch them all!
The modern-day presence of lanterns has also become an important part of the Moon Fest, and both floating and hanging lanterns are displayed throughout many Asian cities. In Singapore, for example, lanterns play a huge role in the festivities, with giant lanterns on display in Chinatown and lantern-painting competitions held each year.