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What Is the Moon Festival?

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  • Written By: B. Chisholm
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2014
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The Moon Festival is a Chinese holiday celebrating the moon, also referred to as the August Moon Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival. It is celebrated by the Chinese community on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month each year and is a time when families gather together. Traditionally, it was all women that took part in the rituals of the festival, as the moon is considered to be feminine, but it is now celebrated by everyone in Chinese communities worldwide.

Chinese mythology features the moon regularly, and the sun and the moon were objects of veneration. One of the myths features a character called Chang E, who flew to the moon with her pet rabbit made of jade and a woodcutter called Wu Gang. It is thought that on clear nights, when the moon is full, they can still be seen there, dancing.

In modern times, the Moon Festival is celebrated with families and friends gathering together in a manner similar to the American holiday, Thanksgiving. It is a time of rejoicing, dancing, singing, eating and gazing at the full moon. As with many traditional festivals, the Moon Festival also has a food that is inextricably linked to it, moon cakes.

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Moon cakes are a Chinese delicacy which consists of a pastry shell filled with a sweet paste made from red beans and lotus seeds. Depending on the cook, they may contain one or more salted duck egg yolks in the filling. Traditionally, they have an imprint on the pastry topping which will be Chinese symbols showing a message such as "Longevity" or "Harmony." While these sweet treats were always made at home, they are now also produced commercially by bakeries around the time of the Moon Festival.

These cakes are presented by businessmen to their clients, friends to their hosts and families to each other during the festival. There are many regional variants to the recipe and some modern day variations too. The traditional moon cakes were cut into slices and eaten, but modern versions that are small, single servings are also found.

The Moon Festival is not only celebrated each year in China but in communities throughout the world. Each year Chinese communities gather together in August and host singing, music and dancing through the streets. This is accompanied by parades and the hanging of lanterns and can stretch over two or three days.

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