What is the Mid-Autumn Festival in China?

September 12, 2019

Each year in China, we celebrate the harvest festival, better known as the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节 zhōngqiū jié) in Chinese. If you are not familiar with the Mid-Autumn Festival, buckle up and we’ll explore this wonderful holiday together.

What is the Mid-Autumn Festival in China?

The Mid-Autumn Festival is a lunar holiday celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month in China. While the date on the Gregorian calendar changes every year, the holiday usually falls sometime between late September and early October.

The holiday traditionally celebrates the harvest season. In ancient China, people would worship the moon and offer sacrifices for a bountiful harvest. The moon is always either full or close to full on the Mid-Autumn festival, so you might also hear the holiday referred to as the Moon Festival or the Mooncake Festival.

Moon Mid-Autumn Festival

How is the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrated in China?

In China, there is usually a three-day holiday for the Mid-Autumn Festival. Traditional Mid-Autumn Festival activities include gathering with family to eat mooncakes and appreciate the beauty of the full moon.

Round foods such as pomegranates and pomelo also typically make an appearance on the Mid-Autumn Festival dinner table as the roundness of the food mirrors the full moon and symbolizes family unity.

Modern activities include short vacations. If you want to join in the traveling, we recommend booking your tickets and accommodation well in advance. The Mid-Autumn Festival is second only to the Spring Festival in importance, making it one of the busiest annual travel periods in China with millions of people on the move.

chinese sleeper train

What are mooncakes?

Mooncakes are round, calorie-heavy snacks commonly eaten for Mid-Autumn Festival in China. They are a circular pastry with rich fillings. Popular flavors include egg yolk, lotus, red bean, and nuts.

Mid-Autumn mooncake

Story of the Mid-Autumn Festival in China

Chang’e Flying to the Moon

There are many tales that tell the legend of the Mid-Autumn Festival in China. However, the most popular remains that of Chang'e flying to the moon.

Once upon a time there lived a hunter named Hou Yi. He was very strong and very brave.

One day, ten suns rose together into the sky causing great chaos and disaster. Hou Yi took his bow and shot down nine of the suns.

Mid-Autumn legend of Houyi the archer

Order was restored to the land and to show her gratitude, the Empress of heaven presented Hou Yi an elixir of immortality.

News spread quickly that Hou Yi had received the elixir from the Empress. Fearing for its safety, Hou Yi gave the elixir to his wife Chang'e for safekeeping.

One day when Hou Yi was away hunting, a villain named Pengmeng broke into the couple's home. He demanded that Chang'e give him the elixir of immortality. Chang'e refused and, out of desperation, swallowed the elixir herself.

Now immortal, Chang'e was exiled from the earth. Not wanting to be too far from her husband, Chang'e flew to the moon, for from there she could still see Hou Yi as he lived down below.

Hou Yi returned from his hunt to find his wife gone. He saw her shadow as she flew to the moon and knew Chang'e had not gone far. Still, he greatly missed his wife.

To honor Chang'e's memory, every full moon Hou Yi would place Chang’e’s favorite foods on the table and gaze into the sky, hoping to glimpse his wife.

The Jade Rabbit

Another story of the Mid-Autumn festival says that in ancient China, the Emperor of Heaven took the form of an old beggar and asked the Fox, Monkey and Rabbit for food.

All three animals went in search of food. The Fox and Monkey both found food and returned to give it to the Emperor. However, the Rabbit was unable to find any food and came back with nothing.

rabbit

The Rabbit selflessly said, “You can eat me”, and threw itself into the Emperor’s campfire.

The Emperor was so moved by the Rabbit’s sacrifice that he sent the Rabbit to the moon to live as an immortal jade rabbit in the Moon Palace with Chang’e.

Mid-Autumn Festival Phrases in Chinese

Chinese Pinyin English
中秋节 Zhōngqiū jié Mid-Autumn Festival
月饼 yuèbǐng mooncake
月亮 yuèliàng moon
每逢佳节倍思亲。 Měi féng jiājié bèi sī qīn. On holidays we miss our loved ones more than ever.

Mid-Autumn Festival Greetings in Chinese

Chinese Pinyin English
中秋节快乐! Zhōngqiū jié kuàilè! Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!
月饼节快乐! yuè bǐng jié kuài lè! Happy Mooncake Festival!
月亮节快乐! yuè liàng jié kuài lè! Happy Moon Festival!
祝福中秋佳节快乐,月圆人圆事事圆满 。 Zhù fú zhōng qiū jiā jié kuài lè, yuè yuán rén yuán shì shì yuán mǎn. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! May the round moon bring you a happy family and a successful future.