Friday, September 17, 2010

The Mid-Autumn Festival

In Chinese dichotomy, the sun is yang (positive, active, or male) and the moon is yin (negative, passive, or female). According to the book Chou Li, the Chou emperors (1122-249 B.C.) had the custom of praying to the moon on the 15th night of the eighth lunar month. In the Ching dynasty, there were a sun altar in eastern Peking and a moon altar in western Peking; at the time of every autumnal equinox, the emperor offered sacrifices and prayed to the moon at the moon altar.

Before switching to the Gregorian calendar officially in 1911, the Chinese had used a lunar calendar since time immemorial; and even today, the Chinese still celebrate their traditional festival mooncake by the lunar calendar. In each lunar month, the first day (the new moon) and the 15th day (the full moon) are major events; and the 15th day of the first month (the Lantern Festival) and the 15th day of the eighth month (Mid-Autumn Festival, September 9th this year on the Gregorian calendar) are the largest celebrations besides the Lunar New Year and the Dragon Boat Festival.

The Chinese Cupid is called "the old man under the moon" ( ¤ë¤U¦Ñ¤H ) and uses a red thread to tie a man's and woman's feet together to make them man and wife--be they from hostile families or widely separated places.

The most lunatic mortal in Chinese history could have been the great poet Li Po (A.D. 701-762), who once invited the moon to have a drink with him and his shadow to form a band of three. Li finally drowned in a lake in an effort to catch the moon when he was drunk one night. Other Chinese legends about the moon abound.

Legends of the Moon

Hou Yi ( ¦Z¬ý ) was a great archer and architect, who shot down nine extra suns that had suddenly appeared in the sky and thus kept the earth from being scorched. He also built a palace of jade for the Goddess of the Western Heaven. For this, he was rewarded with a pill containing the elixir of immortality, but with strings attached--he must fast and pray for a year before taking it. His wife, Chang O ( ¹ß®Z ), whose beauty was surpassed only by her curiosity, discovered and swallowed the pill and in no time soared to the moon and became a permanent resident there. Upon reaching the moon, Chang O, in dismay, coughed up the pill, which turned into a jade rabbit that, day and night, pounds out a celestial elixir for the immortals.

Another permanent lunar resident of Chinese origin is Wu Kang ( §d­è ), a shiftless fellow who changed apprenticeships all the time before disappointing his last master, who was an immortal. From him Wu learned to be immortal himself, but he was punished by being required to chop down a cassia tree in the moon, an impossible mission. The cut in the tree heals completely the same day, so Wu Kang is still chopping away for eternity. Some Chinese crave to drink his cassia blossom wine.

The Chinese believe that the moon is at its largest and brightest, and Chang O at her most beautiful, on the 15th night of the eighth lunar month. They are at least half-right, for at that time most of China is in the dry season and the moon looms brightest. It's also cool then, a perfect time to celebrate the harvest which has just concluded; hence, the Mid-Autumn Festival is also called the Harvest Festival. The festival is a time for family reunions to appreciate the moon ( ½à¤ë , shangyue) and eat moon cakes together. Bathed in bright moonshine and with the company of chrysanthemum and cassia blossoms, poets eat crab meat and moon cake, drink tea and wine, and versify the night away.

Moon Cakes

The Chinese custom of eating moon cake was first recorded in the reign of the emperor Hsi Tzung (A.D. 874-889) of the Tang dynasty and became popular in the Sung dynasty (A.D. 960-1279) The moon cake is traditionally made in the shape of a full moon, symbolizing union and perfection, is usually about the size of a doughnut, and is stuffed with a variety of fillings such as bean paste, egg yolk, lotus seeds, dates, pineapple, walnuts, almonds, and sesame. The crafty Chu Yuan-chang, founder of the Ming dynasty, instigated a rebellion against the Mongol rulers by concealing a call to revolt in moon cakes, leading to the downfall of the Yuan dynasty.

There are many styles of moon cake in China; the most popular in Taiwan are the Cantonese, Soochow, and Taiwanese styles. The Cantonese moon cake is thicker and heavier, while the Soochow and Taiwanese ones have a crispy skin. In the last couple of years a new breed of refrigerated, unbaked moon cake has been gaining popularity, especially among youngster; and durian, coconut meat, vanilla, tea, and coffer have added as ingredients.

Most Chinese consume moon cakes given to them by relatives, friend, employers, or public relations people.Hence, brands matter. Among the most famous are Kee Wah, Maria's and shin Tung Yang. Moon cakes go best with oolong or jasmine tea.

It takes the moon about 29 1/2 days to revolve around the earth, and the Chinese lunar month is either 29 or 30 days. An extra month(called a leap month) is necessary about every three years. There will be a second eight lunar month in 1995. The 15th of the first eight lunar month is celebrated as the Mid-Autumn Festival, which has been designed a public holiday by the Republic of China government. Have a nice holiday, and remember moon calkes taste best when shared by family members or lovers, or both.


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