On the fifteenth day of the eight lunar month, roughly around the time of the autumn equinox is the Mid-Autumn Festival or Zhongqiu Jie. It is held that at this time of the year when the moon is visually most large and bright or “fullest”.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is when farmers celebrate the end of the summer harvesting season and when families gather to enjoy the beauty of the autumn moon. In terms of important Chinese holidays, this specific one is second in importance only to the Chinese New Year.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as the Moon Festival, Mooncake Festival, Lantern Festival, Fifteenth of the Eighth Moon and Festival of Reunion. Why it is known as the Festival of Reunion is due to the full moon being a symbol of family reunion and families do have reunions during this time.
Alters to the moon goddess Chang E are often made during the Mid-Autumn Festival with incense burning as an offering. Alters to Chang E typically are facing the moon and such items as lotion, bath salts and make up are placed on the alter for the moon goddess herself to bless as Chang E is said to endow those who worship her with great beauty.
People also carry lanterns that are brightly lit and lantern shows are a part of some celebrations. People are also known to perform or attend Dragon Dances and other performances. Planting trees are common practice of the Mid-Autumn Festival along with having a dinner during the family reunion.
During the Mid-Autumn Festival people commonly make and eat mooncakes which are sweet, round and about three inches in diameters. Mooncakes have many varieties reaching into the hundreds, typically being filled with such things as nuts, melon seeds, almonds and orange peels. The crust of mooncakes often have symbols on them associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival. Traditionally people pile thirteen mooncakes to symbolize the thirteen lunar months of the year and it is said the best place to eat a mooncake outside while under the moon.
A Chinese legend states that mooncakes helped bring a revolution during the Yuan dynasty (1280 to 1368AD), established by the invading Mongolians of the north. It is said that a Han Chinese rebel, Liu Fu Tong, created a scheme to arouse the Han Chinese to rise up against the ruling Mongolians.
Liu Fu Tong wanted permission from Mongolian leaders to give gifts to friends as symbolic gesture of honouring the longevity of the Mongolian emperor. The gift was mooncakes where Liu Fu Tong had followers place pieces of paper with the date the Han Chinese were to do a rebellion that just happened to be on the fifteenth night of the eighth month. Liu Fu Tong got word to the Han Chinese who set out to overthrow the Mongolians and ending the Yuan dynasty. Since then giving mooncakes on the Mid-Autumn Festival has became a tradition.