For Australia’s population of nearly 1.5 million people of Chinese descent, the Mid-Autumn Festival is the second most important cultural celebration after Lunar New Year. The Chinese moon festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese lunisolar calendar, during autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. It is also known as the Moon Festival, the Harvest Moon Festival or the Mooncake Festival, because of the moon-shaped cakes that are traditionally given as gifts during the festival period, and is an important part of Chinese culture.
The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is a traditional holiday celebrated by Chinese people around the world, usually on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month (in the Chinese calendar).
It has a long history, with origins dating back to the Tang Dynasty over a thousand years ago.
This special time of the year celebrates the harvest season, as well as the reunion of families and loved ones, symbolised by the full moon.
It is celebrated with a variety of traditional activities, such as lighting lanterns, admiring the full moon, and enjoying mooncakes and other special foods.
Mooncakes are a traditional food that is associated with the festival. They are round, symbolizing the full moon, and filled with sweet or savory ingredients such as lotus seed paste, red bean paste, or even meat.
Mooncakes are often exchanged between family members and friends as a way to express love and good wishes.
The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is an important time for people to come together with their loved ones, reflect on the past, and look forward to the future, all while enjoying traditional foods and activities that have been passed down through the generations.
Mooncake throughout the ages
The celebration became popular around 1300 years ago in the time of the Tang Dynasty of ancient China. It was a time for offering thanks to the moon goddess, Chang'e, for a bountiful harvest and praying for good luck in the future. The festival has since evolved to include a variety of customs and rituals, including moon-gazing, lighting lanterns, and eating mooncakes.
It coincides with the end of harvest celebration in the middle of autumn and is traditionally believed to be the day when the full moon shines brightest. It is shrouded in history, traditions and symbolism. It represents an important way for contemporary Chinese people to celebrate and preserve their culture, heritage and community.
These days, perhaps the most commonly known aspect of the celebration is the gifting of moon cakes. These ornate pastries can be filled with red bean or lotus seed paste, or yolks from salted duck eggs. Contemporary pastry chefs are known to get creative with the flavours, experimenting with concoctions such as sweet potato and ginger soup, cream corn soup, black sesame glutinous rice ball and even Beef Wellington.
For the Chinese people, the Mid-Autumn Festival holds great cultural and personal significance. It is a time for families to come together, exchange gifts, and reminisce about the past. The festival is also a time for individuals to reflect on their personal growth and to make wishes for a better future. The full moon, which is seen as a symbol of unity and wholeness, is also an important part of the festival. For many Chinese people, the Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most important holidays of the year.
How the moon cake festival is celebrated around the world
The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated throughout China and in many other countries with significant Chinese populations, such as Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia. It is usually marked as a public holiday as it is one of the major traditional Chinese festivals. In each country, the festival is celebrated in its own unique way, but the themes of reunion, gratitude, and celebration remain the same.
In many cities, the festival is marked by large-scale lantern festivals, where lanterns of various shapes and sizes are lit and displayed in public spaces. In other places, dragon and lion dances, opera performances, and other cultural activities are held to mark the occasion.
Across China and east Asia, there is huge commercial activity surrounding the celebration and it is spreading with the diaspora. A plethora of luxurious mooncakes are marketed to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore’s trendy elite, elaborate lanterns are sold on the streets of Hong Kong and deluxe Moon Cake gift boxes are even available in Australia.
Colourful lanterns are also an important part of Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations and can be seen hung on trees or buildings in many cities and towns where the festival is celebrated. Hong Kong’s Lee Tung Avenue (LTA) is lined with nearly 1,000 lanterns for the crowds to enjoy and people can even try making their own lanterns for the lantern festival. Traditionally the lanterns symbolise family reunion, as they illuminate the way home.
Native Experience: a moon cake celebration with Cecilia Chiu, Australia
LEXIGO translator Cecilia Chiu originally hails from Hong Kong and is now based in Tasmania. She shared what the Mid-Autumn Festival means to her, Australia’s long-standing Asian population and Australia's mid-autumn festival celebrations.
LEXIGO: Do you think the Full Moon Festival is important to the Chinese diaspora in Australia?
Cecilia: Every part of our traditions (including Mid-Autumn Festival) is important to us. It is the many different aspects of our traditions that shape our culture. In this sense, yes, the Mid-Autumn Festival is important to us.
LEXIGO: How do you celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival?
Cecilia: I have not always celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival since I moved to Tasmania. When friends of the same ethnicity have time, we may have a meal together. Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival becomes a pretext for socialising rather than observing the tradition.
Last year, our celebration was a bit special. Friends got together and made mooncakes ourselves.
LEXIGO: How do celebrations differ for you compared to when you lived in Hong Kong to now living in Australia?
Cecilia: Celebrations in Tasmania are very different from what I used to have in Hong Kong where festive foods and paraphernalia were readily available off the shelf.
Here in Tasmania, we have to make them our own, such as the lanterns for the Mid-Autumn Festival. We even bake our own mooncakes if we have time. To a certain extent, this is good. Celebration activities here are less commercialised and ‘getting our hands dirty’ makes us appreciate the traditional aspects more.
LEXIGO: What's your favourite type of mooncake?
Cecilia: I love the snow skin mooncakes, which is a modern form of mooncake. Snow skin mooncakes are a non-baked mooncake originating from Hong Kong. Unlike the traditional baked mooncakes, snow skin mooncake uses less sugar and fat which is comparatively a healthier food.
There is a legend about mooncakes. It was once a revolutionary vehicle at the end of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 CE). Han Chinese concealed messages in the mooncakes (think of it as a forerunner of fortune cookies!) to rebel against the ruling Mongols on Mid-Autumn Day.
The future of the Mid-Autumn Festival
The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is a time-honored tradition that has been celebrated for thousands of years, and will continue to be celebrated in different ways over time.
The festival will always remain a time for families and friends to come together, celebrate the full moon, and share the traditional foods of the season, including mooncakes. Whether celebrated in China or around the world, the Mid-Autumn Festival remains an important cultural and personal holiday for the Chinese people, filled with symbolism, meaning, and joy.
Read more about the fascinating history of the Mid-Autumn Festival here.