The Mid-Autumn Festival is also known by other names, such as:
Moon Festival or Harvest Moon Festival, because of the celebration's association with the full moon on on this night, as well as the traditions of moon worship and moon gazing.
Jūng-chāu Jit (中秋節), official name in Cantonese.
Tết Trung Thu, official name in Vietnamese.
Zhōngqiū Jié (中秋节), the official name in Mandarin.
Lantern Festival, a term sometimes used in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, which is not to be confused with the Lantern Festival in China that occurs on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese calendar.
Reunion Festival, in earlier times, a woman in China took this occasion to visit her parents before returning to celebrate with her husband and his parents.
Children's Festival, in Vietnam, because of the emphasis on the celebration of children.
Meanings of the festival
The festival celebrates three fundamental concepts that are closely connected:
Gathering, such as family and friends coming together, or harvesting crops for the festival. It's said the moon is the brightest and roundest on this day which means family reunion. And this is the main reason why people think mid-autumn is important.
Thanksgiving, to give thanks for the harvest, or for harmonious unions
Praying (asking for conceptual or material satisfaction), such as for babies, a spouse, beauty, longevity, or for a good future
Traditions and myths surrounding the festival are formed around these concepts, although traditions have changed over time due to changes in technology, science, economy, culture, and religion. It's about well being together.
Origins and development
The Chinese have celebrated the harvest during the autumn full moon since the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BCE). Morris Berkowitz, who studied the Hakka people during the 1960s, theorizes that the harvest celebration originally began with worshiping mountain deities after the harvest was completed. For the Baiyue peoples, the harvest time commemorated the dragon who brought rain for the crops. The celebration as a festival only started to gain popularity during the early Tang dynasty (618–907 CE). One legend explains that Emperor Xuanzong of Tang started to hold formal celebrations in his palace after having explored the Moon-Palace. The term mid-autumn (中秋) first appeared in Rites of Zhou, a written collection of rituals of the Western Zhou dynasty (1046–771 BCE).
Empress Dowager Cixi (late 19th century) enjoyed celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival so much that she would spend the period between the thirteenth and seventeenth day of the eighth month staging elaborate rituals.
Houyi helplessly looking at his wife Chang'e flying off to the moon after she drank the elixir.
An important part of the festival celebration is moon worship. The ancient Chinese believed in rejuvenation being associated with the moon and water, and connected this concept to the menstruation of women, calling it "monthly water". The Zhuang people, for example, have an ancient fable saying the sun and moon are a couple and the stars are their children, and when the moon is pregnant, it becomes round, and then becomes crescent after giving birth to a child. These beliefs made it popular among women to worship and give offerings to the moon on this evening. In some areas of China, there are still customs in which "men do not worship the moon and the women do not offer sacrifices to the kitchen gods."
Offerings are also made to a more well-known lunar deity, Chang'e, known as the Moon Goddess of Immortality. The myths associated with Chang'e explain the origin of moon worship during this day. One version of the story is as follows, as described in Lihui Yang's Handbook of Chinese Mythology:
In the ancient past, there was a hero named Hou Yi who was excellent at archery. His wife was Chang'e. One year, the ten suns rose in the sky together, causing great disaster to people. Yi shot down nine of the suns and left only one to provide light. An immortal admired Yi and sent him the elixir of immortality. Yi did not want to leave Chang'e and be immortal without her, so he let Chang'e keep the elixir. But Peng Meng, one of his apprentices, knew this secret. So, on the fifteenth of August in the lunar calendar, when Yi went hunting, Peng Meng broke into Yi's house and forced Chang'e to give the elixir to him. Chang'e refused to do so. Instead, she swallowed it and flew into the sky. Since she loved very much her husband and hoped to live nearby, she chose the moon for her residence. When Yi came back and learned what had happened, he felt so sad that he displayed the fruits and cakes Chang'e liked in the yard and gave sacrifices to his wife. People soon learned about these activities, and since they also were sympathetic to Chang'e they participated in these sacrifices with Yi.