As the Mid-Autumn Festival (or Moon Festival) draws near, you have most likely seen boxes of mooncakes pop up in Chinese grocery stores. The traditional festival is one of the most important celebrations in Asian countries like China, Japan, Vietnam, and Korea. In the rest of the world, immigrants and international students from these countries still celebrate the traditional festival.
As the name suggests, the festival takes place in mid-autumn. It is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, and this year, it falls on 13 September 2019. It is a time to celebrate the full moon with family. Traditionally, the festival combines ancient lunar mythology with an agricultural festival celebrating the year’s harvest with a feast.
Legend has it that there were once ten suns in the sky. The suns would set the fields aflame and cause the sea and the rivers to boil, thereby starving the locals and making them suffer. A highly skilled archer named Hou Yi shot nine of the suns, leaving only one, allowing the people’s lives to return to normal. Now a hero, Hou Yi was crowned king, but he soon turned into a tyrant and sought immortality. One day, he stole the elixir of life kept by the celestial Queen Mother. Wanting to save the people, his spouse Chang’e stole the elixir in turn and drank it after which she flew to the Moon. According to the legend, if you look closely at the Moon on the evening of the Mid-Autumn Festival, you can catch a glimpse of Chang’e in her palace.
The full moon is a symbol of family reunion, happiness, and joy. The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated with a family meal featuring duck, edamame and taro, pears, and, most importantly, mooncakes. Usually in a round shape, these cakes represent the full moon at the centre of the table. Sharing mooncakes with family is a way of wishing happiness and health upon one another.
Another traditional activity is to stroll the parks to admire Osmanthus flowers, which are usually in bloom during this season. These commonly gold flowers are extremely fragrant with a honey-like scent and are often used in desserts, herbal teas, and even to make alcohol. Since the Chinese name is pronounced like the word “precious”, the Chinese associate the Osmanthus tree and its flowers with prosperity and good fortune. Other popular activities during that time of the year include lantern decoration and puzzles. As such, the Chinese Garden at the Jardin botanique de Montréal showcases lanterns every year for the occasion.
Do you live in Montreal? Look for mooncakes in Chinatown and in Asian grocery stores. Several Chinese grocery stores carry these delicious cakes well in advance of the Festival. Grocery stores like Futai, G&D, C&T, and Kim Phat, for example, have some of the best.
Cultural adaptations are always greatly appreciated. If you work with Chinese clients, offer mooncakes as a gift or complimentary snack. Traditional decorations (like lanterns) can also give a festive atmosphere, which will encourage picture-taking and experience-sharing on Chinese social media like WeChat, Weibo, RED, or Tik Tok – word-of-mouth marketing at its best!