Legendary Origins
A Historical Anecdote
Story of the Moon Festival
Mid-Autumn Moon Cake Recipes
About the Festival
Food of the Festival
Make your own Chinese lantern
Mid-Autumn Festival Poems
Other stories of the Moon Festival


This is the time of year when friends and family come together beneath a bright harvest moon to light festive Chinese lanterns and eat moon cakes. These cakes are made of ground lotus and sesame seed paste, egg-yolk and are an integral part of the festivities. Public parks and other sitting out places are filled with families carrying colourful Chinese lanterns of every shape and size enjoying this very popular festival, which dates back thousands of years.

Originally named as the "Full Moon Festival," the Mid-Autumn festival falls on the fifteen day of the eighth lunar month in observance of the bountiful Autumn harvest. At this time, the moon's orbit is at its lowest angle to the horizon, making the moon appear brighter and larger than any other time of the year. In the Western tradition, it is also called the Hunter's Moon or Harvest Moon. According to the lunar calendar, it is also the exact middle of autumn (which begins in the seventh month and ends in the ninth).

To the Chinese, this festival is similar to the American Thanksgiving holiday, celebrating a bountiful harvest. Compared to many Chinese festivals that are inundated with vibrant colours and sounds, the Mid-Autumn festival remains more subdued. Traditionally celebrated outdoors under the moonlight, people eat moon cakes and gaze at the moon. In modern times, barbecues with families and friends are also common.


Legendary Origins

Like most Chinese holidays, the mid-autumn festival is rich in oral history and legend. According to stories, Hou Yi was a tyrannical ruler who won the elixir of immortality by shooting 9 suns out of the sky with his bow. But his wife, knowing that the people's lives would remain miserable for all eternity if Hou Yi lived forever, drank the potion. The fluids made her lighter, and she floated up into the moon. Even today, Chinese like to think of the moon as home of Chang O.


A Historical Anecdote

The Mongol Hordes of Ghengis Khan subjugated the Chinese, and established the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th Century. However, many Chinese resented the fact that they were ruled by a foreign regime. In the 14th Century, Liu Bouwen helped plot the overthrow of the Yuan Dynasty by organizing resistance. Secret messages were passed along in mooncakes.

The Moon Festival is one of the most important holidays celebrated by Chinese communities around the world.

Traditionally, it is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month . Although old rituals are no longer followed, families continue to gather for a day to relax and eat moon cakes. Upon this occasion, the legend of the Moon Goddess, CHANG-O, is often told to children.


Hou Yi and Chang-O
Story of the Moon Festival

Once upon a time there was a famous archer, Hou Yi, who with his arrows was able to slay mankind's worst enemies, ferocious beasts that inhabited the earth. Yi was married to Chang-O, a beautiful but inquisitive woman who had been an attendant of the queen mother of the west before her marriage. Now at this time, there were 10 suns that took turns circling the earth-one every 10 days. One day, all 10 of the orbs circled, together, causing the earth's surface to burn and threatening mankind. The wise emperor of China summoned Yi and commanded him to kill but one of the suns. This Yi proceeded to do. Upon the completion of his task, Yi was rewarded with a pill, the elixir of life, and advised: "make no haste to swallow this pill, but first prepare yourself with prayer and fasting for a year." Being a wise man, Yi took the pill home and hid it under a rafter while he began healing his spirit, In the midst of this, Yi was summoned again by the emperor.

While her husband was gone, Chang-O noticed a beam of white light beckoning from the rafter. She followed it and a fragrant perfume, discovered the pill and swallowed it. Immediately, Chang-O found she could fly. Just at that moment her husband returned home, realize what had happened and began to reprimand his wife. Chang-O flew out the window into the sky. Yi sped after her, bow in hand, and the pursuit continued halfway across the heavens. Finally, Yi had to return to the earth because of the force of the wind.

His wife reached the moon and there, breathless, she coughed and part of the pill fell from her mouth. Now, the hare was already on the moon and Chang-O commanded the animal to take pestle and mortar and pound another pill so that she return to earth and her husband. The hare is still pounding.

As for Yi, he built himself a palace in the sun as Yang (the sun and the male principle), Chang-O as Yin (the moon and the female principle).

Once a year, on the 15th day of the full moon, Yi visits his wife. That is why the moon is full and beautiful on that night.

Story by Thomas W. Chinn, Historian


Mid-Autumn Moon Cake Recipes
By Yan Can Cook, Inc

Makes 2 dozen
1 can (17-1/2 ounces) lotus seed paste
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2-cup non-fat dried milk powder
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 cup sugar 1/2 cup solid shortening, melted and cooled
1 egg yolk , lightly beaten

1. Mix lotus seed paste and walnuts together in a bowl; set aside.

2. Sift flour, milk powder, baking powder, and salt together into a bowl. In large bowl of electric mixer, beat eggs on medium speed until light and lemon colored. Add sugar; beat for 10 minutes or until mixture falls in a thick ribbon. Add melted shortening; mix lightly. With a spatula, fold in flour mixture. Turn dough out on a lightly floured board; knead for 1 minute or until smooth and satiny. Divide dough in half; roll each half into a log. Cut each log into 12 equal pieces.

3. To shape each moon cake, roll a piece of dough into a ball. Roll out on a lightly floured board to make a 4-inch circle about 1/8-inch thick. Place 1 tablespoon of lotus seed paste mixture in cent re of dough circle. Fold in sides of dough to completely enclose filling; press edges to seal. Lightly flour inside of moon cake press with 2-1/2 inch diameter cups. Place moon cake, seam side up, in mold; flatten dough to conform to shape of mold. Bang one end of mold lightly on work surface to dislodge moon cake. Place cake on ungreased baking sheet. Repeat to shape remaining cakes. Brush tops with egg yolk.

4. Bake in a preheated 375 degree F. oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a rack and let cool.


About the Festival

The festival has a long history. In ancient China , emperors followed the rite of offering sacrifices to the sun in spring and to the moon in autumn. Historical books of the Zhou Dynasty had had the word "Mid-Autumn". Later aristocrats and literary figures helped expand the ceremony to common people. They enjoyed the full, bright moon on that day, worshipped it and expressed their thoughts and feelings under it. By the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Mid-Autumn Festival had been fixed, which became even grander in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). In the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, it grew to be a major festival of China .

Folklore about the origin of the festival go like this: In remote antiquity, there were ten suns rising in the sky, which scorched all crops and drove people into dire poverty. A hero named Hou Yi was much worried about this, he ascended to the top of the Kunlun Mountain and, directing his superhuman strength to full extent, drew his extraordinary bow and shot down the nine superfluous suns one after another. He also ordered the last sun to rise and set according to time. For this reason, he was respected and loved by the people and lots of people of ideals and integrity came to him to learn martial arts from him. A person named Peng Meng lurked in them.

Hou Yi had a beautiful and kindhearted wife named Chang-O. One day on his way to the Kunlun Mountain to call on friends, he ran upon the Empress of Heaven Wangmu who was passing by. Empress Wangmu presented to him a parcel of elixir, by taking which, it was said, one would ascend immediately to heaven and become a celestial being. Hou Yi, however, hated to part with his wife. So he gave the elixir to Chang-O to treasure for the time being. Chang E hid the parcel in a treasure box at her dressing table when, unexpectedly, it was seen by Peng Meng.

One day when Hou Yi led his disciples to go hunting, Peng Meng, sword in hand, rushed into the inner chamber and forced Chang-O to hand over the elixir. Aware that she was unable to defeat Peng Meng, Chang-O made a prompt decision at that critical moment. She turned round to open her treasure box, took up the elixir and swallowed it in one gulp. As soon as she swallowed the elixir her body floated off the ground, dashed out of the window and flew towards heaven. Peng Meng escaped.

When Hou Yi returned home at dark, he knew from the maidservants what had happened. Overcome with grief, Hou Yi looked up into the night sky and called out the name of his beloved wife when, to his surprise, he found that the moon was especially clear and bight and on it there was a swaying shadow that was exactly like his wife. He tried his best to chase after the moon. But as he ran, the moon retreated; as he withdrew, the moon came back. He could not get to the moon at all.

Thinking of his wife day and night, Hou Yi then had an incense table arranged in the back garden that Chang-O loved. Putting on the table sweetmeats and fresh fruits Chang-O enjoyed most, Hou Yi held at a distance a memorial ceremony for Chang-O who was sentimentally attached to him in the palace of the moon.

When people heard of the story that Chang-O had turned into a celestial being, they arranged the incense table in the moonlight one after another and prayed kindhearted Chang-O for good fortune and peace. From then on the custom of worshiping the moon spread among the people.

People in different places follow various customs, but all show their love and longing for a better life. Today people will enjoy the full moon and eat moon cakes on that day.

The moon looks extremely round, big and bright on the 15th day of each lunar month. People selected the August 15 to celebrate because it is a season when crops and fruits are all ripe and weather pleasant. On the Mid-Autumn Festival, all family members or friends meet outside, putting food on tables and looking up at the sky while talking about life. How splendid a moment it is!

On this special day, people worship in temples and hold happy reunions at home. Sons and daughters will bring their family members back to their parents' house for a reunion. Sometimes people who have already settled overseas will come back to visit their parents on that day.

After nightfall they stroll under the stars to view the brightest and fullest moon of the year. Children run around with bright, colourful lanterns in many different designs and shapes. The adults usually indulge in eating many varieties of moon cakes with hot tea. Other traditional treats include pomelo, persimmon, steamed taro dipped in sugar and roasted chestnuts.

Families, relations and friends gather to enjoy the full moon, a symbol of promise for abundance, of harmony and luck. Some will beseech the beautiful Moon Goddess of Immortality for protection as well as family unity.

The traditional food of this festival is the moon cake, of which there are many different varieties. Moon cakes can be bought in Chinese grocery stores and bakeries. The small cakes are very rich, with fillings made of lotus seed paste with anywhere from one to four salted egg yolks in the centre, lotus seed paste with melon seeds, black bean paste with mincemeat (like the filling of a Christmas pie), and all of the above with assorted nuts. Prices vary depending on the ingredients.


Food of the Festival
Moon Cakes

The ubiquitous fare at any Chinese celebration of the Full Moon festival, mooncakes are a flaked pastry stuffed with a wide variety of fillings. Egg Yolk, lotus seed paste, red bean paste, and coconut are common, but walnuts, dates, and other fillings can be found as well. Most have characters for longevity or harmony inscribed on the top. Special cakes can reach almost one foot in diameter.

Moon Cakes are a delicacy consumed during and around the Mid-Autumn Festival. They are often, but not always, round or rectangular. They have a noodle-like dough on the outside, and the insides are usually filled with one or more of the following: sweetmeats, bean paste, lotus seed paste, melon seed, all sorts of nuts, and duck egg yolks. Moon Cakes can be steamed, baked, or fried. The reason why they are called Moon Cakes may be because they are shaped like the moon. The Chinese characters mean that it was originally a seasonal confectionery eaten while admiring the mid-autumn harvest moon. During this period, the Moon Cake sold by stores and restaurants are made to symbolize the moon through the use of yolks from salted duck eggs, which are placed inside the lotus seed paste. These mid-autumn Moon Cakes with salted duck eggs are available for a limited period of time only. Moon cakes go best with oolong or jasmine tea.

Many regional types of Moon Cakes evolved as time passed. The development of each type of Moon Cakes was governed by availability of resources, economic environment, and regional taste preferences.


Make your own Chinese lantern


colored paper
markers, crayons, or paints
decorating things, like stickers or glitter
a hole punch or a sharp pencil


1. Take a sheet of colored paper. Draw small shapes, like stars, moons or circles on it. Make any shapes you like. Remember, the big piece of paper is the important one, not the shapes. Push the scissors through the middle of a shape and then cut it out. Remember, just cut out the shapes. Don't cut anyplace else on the big paper.

2. Decorate the piece of paper with pictures or writing. Draw or write on the paper to decorate it. You can also glue things to the paper to make it pretty.

3. Get the tape. Roll the piece of paper to make a tube. Don't make it too tight. Make sure that your decorations are on the outside to that everyone can see them. Tape the ends of the paper to each other to make the tube.

4. Get the hole-punch and the string. Punch four holes at the top of the tube. Cut four pieces of string as long as the tube. Tie one piece of string to each hole. Tie the four strings together. Cut another piece of string and tie it to the other strings so you can hang up the lantern.

5. If you know any riddles, write one on a piece of paper. Tape it to your lantern. Let your friends try to guess the answer. If you have some candy, you can give a piece to the friend who solves your riddle!


Mid-Autumn Festival Poems

The Mid-Autumn Moon by Li Qiao

A full moon hangs high in the chilly sky,
All say it's the same everywhere, round and bright.
But how can one be sure thousands of li away
Wind and perhaps rain may not be marring the night?

The Yo-Mei Mountain Moon by Li Bai

The autumn moon is half round above the Yo-mei Mountain ;
The pale light falls in and flows with the water of the Ping - chiang River .
Tonight I leave Ching-chi of limpid stream for the three Canyons.
And glide down past Yu-chow, thinking of you whom I cannot see.


Other stories of the Moon Festival

God of Marriage

The Old Man in the Moon or the God of Marriage is Yue-lao, who bears the weighty responsibility of deciding all mortal marriages. That means the marriage of any couple in the world have been prearranged by him. Yue-lao ties the future husband and wife together with an invisible silken cord that never breaks as long as life lasts. At the appropriate time, the cord brings the predestined mates together and they wed! This has been a subject of Chinese poetry and song since the ancient times.

Wu Kang chopping the cassia tree

If one looks carefully at the full moon, it may be able to see the dark shadows of the legendary "Wu Kang chopping the cassia tree". In Chinese mythology, Wu Kang is portrayed as a woodcutter fascinated with the magic of immortality. Angered by his hubris, the Jade Emperor banished Wu Kang to the Moon Palace , telling him that he must cut down a huge cassia tree before he could possess the magic of immortality. Though he chopped day and night, the cassia tree restored itself with each blow, and thus he continues to eternally chop the tree on the barren moon. That is why Wu Kang is still at his task, up on the moon.

The Hare - Jade Rabbit

According to tradition, the Jade Rabbit pounds out medicine for the gods with the lady Chang-O. Others say that the Jade Rabbit is a shape assumed by Chang-O herself.

You may find that the dark areas to the top of the full moon can be construed as the figure of a rabbit. The animal's ears point to the upper right, while at the left are two large circular areas representing its head and body.

In this legend, three fairy sages transformed themselves into pitiful old men and begged for something to eat from a fox, a monkey and a rabbit. The fox and the monkey both had food to give to the old men, but the rabbit, empty-handed, offered his own flesh instead, jumping into a blazing fire to cook himself. The sages were so touched by the rabbit's sacrifice that they let him live in the Moon Palace where he became the "Jade Rabbit." Today, eating Moon Cakes is a way of commemorating the Jade Rabbit.

Overthrow of Mongol Rule

Back during the Soong dynasty when the Chinese were oppressed by the Mongols, their rebel leaders sought to overthrow the Mongol overlords. As meetings were banned it was impossible to make plans. Liu Fu Tong of the Anhui Province came up with a plan by requesting permission to distribute cakes to his friends to bless the longevity of the Mongol emperor. He made thousands of cakes shaped like the moon and stuffed with sweet fillings. Inside each cake however was placed a piece of paper with the message: ‘Rise against the Tartars on the 15th day of the 8th Moon'. Reading the message, the people rose against the Mongols on a local scale. This rebellion enabled Chu Hung Wu, another rebel leader to eventually overthrow the Mongols. In 1368, he established the Ming dynasty and ruled under the name of Emperor Tai Tsu. Henceforth, the Mid Autumn Festival was celebrated with moon cakes on a national level.