This festival to honor the moon goddess is a national holiday in China and a day celebrated throughout the Far East and in Asian communities all over the world. It is also known as the Moon Cake Festival. In Korea, it is called Hangawi or CHUSEOK; in Vietnam Trung Thursday; in Hong Kong Chung Ch'iu; and in Taiwan Tiong-chhiu Choeh.
Family reunions are traditional on this day, giving it some resemblance to the American THANKSGIVING. People travel long distances to be together for exchanging presents, feasting, and eating moon cakes. The ingredients of the cakes and the celebration vary according to the region.
In Taiwan, people have picnics and climb mountains to have a better view of the moon. Besides eating moon cakes, people eat pomeloes, a sweet local fruit. The Chinese word for pomelo sounds like the Chinese word for “blessing,” so this is considered an especially good time to indulge in pomeloes. It's also a time for lovers to tryst.
In Malaysia, Vietnam, and other areas, it is a children's festival. They parade through the streets on the night of the festival with candle-lit paper lanterns, some of them white and round like the moon, others like all sorts of animals. Dancers parade with dragons made of paper and cloth, and firecrackers are lit after the parades. In Hong Kong children also carry paper lanterns, and many people spend the evening on the beaches watching the moon and the many bonfires that are lit on this night.
In Suzhou, China, a celebration is held in the Museum of Chinese Drama and Opera, with spectators seated at small porcelain tables where they eat moon cakes, drink jasmine tea, and watch a program of Chinese classical music, ballad-singing, acrobatics, and comic scenes from operas.
In Japan, the custom of tsukimi, or “moon-viewing,” is observed at the same time as the Chinese festival—at the time of the full moon nearest September 15. People set up a table facing the horizon where the moon will rise, and place offerings on the table to the spirit of the moon. These would include a vase holding the seven grasses of autumn, cooked vegetables, and tsukimi dango, moon-viewing dumplings made of rice flour. Moon-viewing festivals are held at Hyakkaen Garden, Mukojima, Tokyo, and on Osawa at Daikakuji Temple in Kyoto, where the moon is watched from boats with dragons on their bows.
There are 20 to 30 varieties of moon cakes, which in their roundness are symbolic of family unity. Some are made of lotus seed paste, some of red bean paste, some with mixed nuts, and some have a duck egg in the center. In some regions, the moon cakes are crusty, while in others they are flaky.
There are also varying versions of the origins of the festival, which is thought to go back to the ninth century. One version has it that the Chinese, looking at the dark side of the full moon, saw a hare or rabbit, which was able to make a potion for immortality. The festival was the rabbit's birthday, and people sold rabbits on the streets. Moon cakes were made to feed the rabbits. Another version says that the day marks the overthrow of the Mongol overlords in ancient China; the moon cakes supposedly hid secret messages planning the overthrow. The more accepted version is that the day is a harvest festival at a time when the moon is brightest. At this time of year, as the weather gets colder, people want a day to rest and enjoy life.
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