Mid-Autumn Festival: a supermoon, an immortal and lots of mooncakes!

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On the 27th September, Chinese people around the world will celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋节 which is the second most important festival in the whole year.  It celebrates family gathering and reunion, thanksgiving for a good harvest (due to China’s agrarian roots) and affords people a celestially auspicious window to pray for material or spiritual blessings (with increasing fervency in modern times!).

On the night, family members return home to have a big reunion meal. Mooncakes of various sweet and savoury fillings are given as gifts to friends and families leading up to the festival, as the round shape signifies completeness and unity in Chinese culture.  After the dinner, everyone would sit around to admire the bright moon, sip tea and enjoy the stacks of mooncake they surely would have accumulated by then.

The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese lunar calendar as the Chinese believe the moon appears the biggest on this date.  In a highly unusual culmination of events in the cosmos, there will be a supermoon and a lunar eclipse at the same time during the festival this year.  A supermoon happens when the moon reaches its peak while it is at the closest possible distance to the earth, making the moon’s diameter look up to 14 per cent bigger, according to Nasa. This September’s supermoon will also coincide with a lunar eclipse, making it a supermoon lunar eclipse – an event which has happened just five times since 1910. The last time the two events converged was in 1982 and the next time will be 2033.  However, to catch a glimpse of this cosmic wonder, you will have to be in North or South America. Sorry London folks…

Some clever person eons ago thought up a good story to promote this festival, so here goes the myth for the origins of moon worshipping:

Many moons ago, there was a hero named Hou Yi who was an accomplished archer. One year, ten suns appeared in the sky causing the earth to scorch and people to suffer. Hou Yi shot down nine of the suns and left one to provide light.  To thank Hou Yi, an immortal gave him the elixir of immortality. Hou Yi did not want to live without his beloved wife Chang’e so he decided against immortality and asked Chang’e to safe keep the elixir. Unfortunately, Peng Meng, one of his apprentices, discovered this secret and tried to take it forcefully from Chang’e when Hou Yi went out hunting one day. In desperation, Chang’e swallowed it and flew into the sky. Since she loved her husband very much and didn’t want to be too far away, she chose to settle on the moon. This happened to be the 15th of the eighth month, so the moon was at its closest to the earth. When Hou Yi came back and learned about what had happened, he displayed Chang’e’s favourite fruits and cakes in the yard in front of the moon, hoping to catch sight of her. People soon learned about these offerings and, out of sympathy, they also make these offerings with Hou Yi.  Overtime, these cakes evolved into the round mooncakes.

To celebrate this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival, I’ve been recreating the Shanghai meat stuffed mooncake, as you can see in the photo above. I will be sharing the recipe soon…

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