Also called the Lunar, Mooncake, or Lantern Festival, this moon celebration started in China during the Shang Dynasty over 3,000 years ago. It is now celebrated in various countries in southeast Asia and falls on the autumnal equinox when the moon is at its fullest and brightest. This year, it falls on September 12th.
These are just one type of moon cake traditionally made during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Image taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/47489771@N00/262305960/ Moon Cakes
Originally a worship ceremony to the moon, it is now considered one of the most important holidays in the Chinese calendar and marks the end of the harvest season for farmers. To celebrate, families observe the grand harvest moon together while eating delicious moon cakes and pomelos. There are several other traditions that follow, such as carrying brightly-colored lanterns, lighting incense, and performing elaborate fire dragon dances.
Fire dragon filled with longevity incense. Image taken from http://ilearn-culture.com/events/the-customs-of-mid-autumn-festival/
There are many stories as to the origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival, but the most popular is the story of Chang Er.
Legend says in ancient China ten suns appeared in the sky one day. These ten scorching suns burnt the lands, ruining crops and drying rivers. Just as the situation was at its direst and all seemed lost for the people on earth, a hero appeared, Hou Yi. With his bow and arrow, he ascended the peak of the Kun Lun Mountain. Using his mighty strength and godly archery skills, he shot down nine of the suns. The land and its people were saved from the catastrophe and Hou Yi became honored as a savior. Many people became his archery disciples, but among them, there was a cunning and devious man called Peng Meng.
Soon Hou Yi married Chang Er, a beautiful and kind girl. Other than teaching archery classes, Hou Yi spent his time with Chang Er and they were much adored and admired as a loving pair. One day, as Hou Yi was traveling to Kun Lun Mountain to visit a friend, he came upon the Jade Empress, a heavenly goddess. To the Jade Empress, he requested and was given the pill of immortality, which was able to transform a mortal into a deity. Hou Yi was reluctant to leave his wife alone on earth, so he decided to share the pill with her.
One day, he left to go hunting with his disciples and left the pill of immortality to Chang Er for safekeeping. The devious Peng Meng overheard about the pill and stormed into their house with his sword demanding Chang Er to give him the pill of immortality. Unable to fight against Peng Meng and afraid that he would use the pill for evil purposes, Chang Er swallowed the immortality pill. Immediately, she became light and started to float out the window. She flew up the sky beyond her control. As she flew further from earth, she realized she would never see her husband again. In order to be with him, Chang Er landed and stayed on the moon to watch over him.
When Hou Yi came back and discovered what had happened, he dashed out to the backyard garden and yelled out his wife’s name in sadness. Suddenly, he noticed that the moon was brighter than normal and he could notice a familiar shadow moving on the moon, much resembling his beloved wife; Hou Yi realized that she had become a deity on moon. He set up an incense altar in the moonlight and placed her favorite fruits and snacks as a memorial for Chang Er. Once word spread that Chang Er had become the moon deity, people began to place offerings and pray to the moon every mid-autumn for the kind-hearted Chang Er to grant peace and happiness to them.