What has three names and celebrates the moon? China’s Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival or Harvest Moon Festival, is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar — or September 13 this year.
We know what you’re thinking. Why does the Mid-Autumn Festival take place in late summer? Because China follows the ancient lunar calendar — and the seventh, eighth and ninth lunar months are classified as autumn. The festival, marking the end of the autumn harvest, occurs during the middle of autumn when the moon is at its fullest.
Moon worship has been an integral part of Chinese culture for centuries. Families gather for celebrations, to eat dinner and share “moon cakes” as a way to thank the moon for a good harvest.
Mid-Autumn Festival timeline
- 1045 - 221 BC
Zhou Dynasty emperors pay homage
During the autumnal equinox, Chinese royalty offer sacrifices to the Moon Goddess but an actual festival didn't exist at that time.
- 618 – 907
Taking their cue from the royal class, merchants and commoners hold nightly celebrations in honor of the moon with dancing, wine-drinking and merriment.
- 960 - 1279
The lunar calendar sets the date for the moon festival during the Northern Song Dynasty
By this time, the Moon Festival had become a popular folk festival that always took place during the 15th day of the eighth lunar month as designated in the lunar calendar.
- 1279 – 1368
Moon cakes appear with a dual purpose
During the Yuan Dynasty, which was ruled by the Mongols, the tradition of eating moon cakes starts out with the delicacies stuffed with messages relayed among those fighting against the Mongols.
- 1368 – 1912
During the Ming and Qing, the Mid-Autumn festival reaches its peak
The Mid-Autumn Festival becomes a firm part of Chinese culture, making it second only to the festivities surrounding Chinese New Year.
Mid-Autumn Festival Activities
Munch on moon cakes
Moon cakes are extra special Chinese pastries shared among family and friends during the Mid-Autumn or Moon Festival. If you're the family chef, make these delicacies with a variety of fillings. But if eating is all you really want to do, sample some moon cakes stuffed with lotus paste and salted egg yolk or date paste, fruits, nuts or seeds. Tasty!
Hang paper lanterns
In China, you know it's time for a festival when you see beautiful paper lanterns everywhere you look. This year during the Mid-Autumn Festival, criss-cross your backyard with googobs of fancy paper lanterns. Then, invite friends over for moon cakes and fun!
Make your house The Spot for the festival
This year, your house is Party Central for the Mid-Autumn Festival. The nights should be warm enough for moon gazing and the days should be filled with delicious food and the comings and goings of family and friends.
5 Reasons To Put China's Mid-Autumn Festival On Your Calendar
It's celebrated outside of mainland China
People in Hong Kong, Macau, and Vietnam also celebrate this festival.
Moon cakes come in all sizes
In 2013, the world's largest moon cake was wider than a king-size bed and weighed more than a car.
It was like Valentine's Day in ancient China
The "old man in the moon" was said to act as a matchmaker hooking up singles who needed to find mates and romance.
A touch of the digital age
Instead of giving moon cakes, Chinese updated the festival tradition by using wi-fi to distribute "digital red envelopes" filled with "lucky money" for friends and family.
Book your train ticket early
Since the Mid-Autumn Festival covers three days, train seats sell out quickly so get yours as soon as possible!
Why We Love Mid-Autumn Festival
It's a moon thang
There's something mysterious, poetic and powerful about this silver orb that has inspired cultures all over the world. As an agrarian society for centuries, China's farmers were beholden to the elements, including the moon, for a plentiful harvest.
It's a time for gratitude
Giving thanks for a bountiful harvest brings family and friends together during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Even if you're not a farmer, this festival reminds everyone to count their blessings. But it doesn't hurt to enjoy the earthly pleasures of delicious food, decorative lanterns, rousing music and loads of fun.
It's okay to be Number Two
The Mid-August Festival is the second largest in the country after Chinese New Year. Attendees enjoy festivities during the day and non-stop partying at night. Who says being Number Two is lame?