Mid Autumn Festival

Chinese Culture Index


The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, falls on the fifteenth day of the eighth month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar. On this day the moon is at its apogee when it is at it's brightest and is the only day on which it is considered to be perfectly round.


One legend, deriving from the Yuan Dynasty (A.D. 1279 - 1368), was the messages giving the time and date for the massacre of the Mongols were concealed in the moon cakes which were distributed to families and friends in 1353. The plan was credited with hastening the overthrow of the unpopular Mongol Dynasty.

In many ways the festival equates closely with the western harvest festival, as it is the time when the harvests have been gathered and offerings of fruit are made to the Gods. Many different legends were associated with the festival and different deities who traditionally dwell in the moon were worshipped in various regions of China.

When offerings were made to the Gods, thirteen moon cakes were piled in front of the altar, each representing one month of the Chinese lunar calendar. (13 months during lunar leap year)


In the past, traveling theatrical groups and blind musicians entertained those celebrating the festival but in modern times, it is usual to hold an outdoor party where the moon can be viewed in all its glory in the late evening. Some groups of families or friends "chase the moon" and hold their parties on hillsides, where clearer views can be obtained.

Paper Lanterns

Paper lanterns are a prominent feature of the celebrations, being hung around the area where the feasting takes place. The larger lanterns are very elaborate being decorated with pictures of various deities and characters associated with the moon whilst children carry smaller lanterns suspended from sticks during the celebrations.

Festival food

Probably the most recognizable feature of the festival is the boxes of moon cakes on sale in the months prior to the festival. They are in boxes of four and may be round or square in shape and are usually stamped with a deity associated with the festival. The cakes are made from a flaky pastry in which many varieties of fillings can be found. The most usual was sugared beans, ground sesame or lotus and the yoke of a preserved duck egg; but there are many other fillings and nowadays it is even possible to buy moon cakes filled with ice cream.

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