15th of the eighth month in lunar calendar, which is Monday 8th September this year, is a day of family gathering, sharing meals (which is the case for any Chinese festival), and spend time together. In agriculture time and community, this is when all the crops are gathered in barns nice and safe, men finish their hard work of this year in fields, families finally have time to sit down together and have a feast to celebrate. Plus in autumn, the heat of the summer is gone, the weather is usually refreshingly cool and the sky looks clear and high – the perfect time to spend evenings outdoors. And 15th of each month always has a full moon – that’s why it’s called a lunar calendar, it follows the cycles of the moon. So families gather and enjoy a seemingly biggest full moon of the year over a homely meal.
The moon viewing element of the festival shows through better in Japan. The same festival is called Tsukimi, which literally means Moon-Viewing. According to my Japanese colleague, they usually eat dango, which is made of rice flour, sometimes with red bean paste as filling, sometimes not.
In South Korea Mid-Autumn Festival, which is called Chuseok in Korean, seems a lot more important. You can tell it from the number of days public holiday people are given – zero in Japan, one in China, THREE in South Korea! My South Korean colleague compared it to Christmas – people go home and see families, have a big meal and go tomb sweeping.
Mid-Autumn Festival became a public holiday in China in 2007 as a way of encouraging traditional culture and customs, as well as promoting national identity. It’s unusually early this year. You might be thinking that the beginning of September is not quite “mid” Autumn yet. That’s because, apparently, there are two Septembers in the lunar calendar this year. And winter will arrive later. Amazing isn’t it? I just had a dig about and found that there are only 354.37 days in a lunar year, so like an extra day in February in leap year for solar year, there are “extra months” for lunar leap years. In 19 years, there are 7 extra months. Which month is going to be “doubled”, depends on 24 solar terms.
Moon Cake is the iconic food for this Festival. It has almost become a horror to people now. It feels a bit like mince pie at Christmas in Britain – you are confronted with it every home and party you enter, for a whole month. I don’t like Moon Cake or mince pie. But at least in Britain if you say “no, thank you” nicely, you’re not considered an ungrateful child.
So happy Mid-Autumn Festival to all who celebrate it. And to the rest, do stop for a few minutes and look at the moon on Monday night. It will be bright and happy!