The Chinese Lantern Festival, also known as Mooncake Festival, Moon Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival or Zhongqiu Festival is celebrated by Vietnamese and Chinese people on the 15th day of the 8th month (based on lunar calendar) every year. In Gregorian calendar, it always falls on September or early October.
In China, the Lantern Festival is the second grandest festival after the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival. It takes its name from the fact that they always celebrate the day in the middle of the autumn season. At this day, the moon is also at its roundest and at its maximum brightness for the entire year.
Legend behind the Festival
The most popular tale regarding the origins of the Moon Festival is perhaps the story of Chang E. The story begins when there were 10 suns in the sky, and therefore the extreme heat made all the peoples lives very difficult. This also caused the crops to shrivel and people to starve. One day, a hero by the name of Hou Yi shot down the nine suns with his red bow and white arrows, leaving only one sun in the sky.
One day, Hou Yi married a kind and beautiful woman named Chang E and they lived a happy life. Being so popular and enjoyed being with his beautiful wife, Hou Yi became greedy and sought immortality by ordering an elixir to prolong his life. The elixir in the form of a pill was ready but unfortunately his wife, Chang E was purposely or accidentally swallowed it and this made Hou Yi very angry.
Because she had already swallowed the whole pill, she suddenly floated into the sky toward the moon before Hou Yi was able to catch her. Although she landed on the Moon alone without her husband, she did have company a jade rabbit and woodcutter Wu Gang. The mythologies of Korea and Japan also feature references about rabbits living on the Moon.
And therefore for one week in the fall of every year, at the time when the moon was at its fullest, Chang Es husband Hou Yi always commemorated his love for his lost beautiful wife by setting up an altar to her outside so that she could see it. Today, every Mooncake Festival, the Chinese people usually set up an altar on the open air facing the bright full Moon in order to worship her. She endows her worshippers wih beauty.
On this special day, the Chinese people would eat moon cakes. The round cake is said to symbolize the moon. You can also see many people carrying Chinese lanterns everywhere. While admiring the moon, members of a family usually sit around a table talking and eating. Different customs have evolved in different areas regarding this Festival.