Happy Mid Autumn Festival

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

THERE are several stories about the origins of mooncakes and the myths and legends behind the Mooncake Festival.
One of the more romantic myths is that Chang-O, the most beautiful woman of Chinese mythology stole the elixir of life that her husband had obtained with great difficulty from the Royal Mother.

The story goes like this:

Long ago, the earth was in a state of havoc because there were 10 suns in the sky, and these were the sons of the Jade Emperor.

Rivers dried up, the land became barren, and many people died.
Seeing the death and destruction caused by his sons, the Jade Emperor took this matter to the god Hou Yi. The Emperor asked Hou Yi to persuade his sons to rise up away from the earth to end the catastrophe.

When Hou Yi asked the suns to leave the sky, they refused. Made angry by their defiance, Hou Yi, a great archer, launched arrows at the suns, shooting them down one by one until his wife Chang-O pleaded with him to save one sun to keep the earth warm and bright.

Knowing that the Jade Emperor was furious at the slaying of his sons, Hou Yi and Chang-O were forced to stay on earth.

Chang-O was unhappy, so her husband tried to win back her favour by gathering herbs that would give them once again the power to ascend to heaven. Chang-O remained angry, however, and ate all the herbs herself. She flew up to the moon, where she remains alone, living in the Moon Palace. The Tang poet, Li Shang-yin wrote the above verse on Chang O's sad story three thousand years later, and the story of Chang-O's flight to the moon has persisted since among the people of the world. There are several versions of this story, but this is the more popular version.

On the 15th of the 8th lunar month every year (this year it falls on September 24), when the moon is at its brightest and loveliest, Chinese people around the world look at the moon and remember Chang-O and her legend. The occasions is celebrated as the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as
the Moon Festival.

Mooncakes became part of the Mid-Autumn Festival because during the Yuan dynasty (1280 1368 A.D.) when China was ruled by the Mongolian people. Leaders from the preceding Sung dynasty (960-1280 A.D.) were unhappy at submitting to foreign rule, and set out to co-ordinate the rebellion
without it being discovered. The leaders of the rebellion, knowing that the Moon Festival was drawing
near, ordered the making of special cakes. Packed into each mooncake was a message with the outline of the attack.

On the night of the Moon Festival, the rebels succesfully attacked and overthrew the government.

What followed was the establishment of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.).

Today, mooncakes are eaten to commemorate this event.

For generations, mooncakes have been made with sweet fillings of nuts, mashed red beans, lotus-seed paste or Chinese dates, wrapped in a pastry. Sometimes, a cooked egg yolk can be found in the middle of the rich tasting dessert.

Chinese lanterns are also specialities for this festival. The most common are the paper folding type.
However, there are many varieties of lanterns made of different shapes and materials.
In Malaysia, kids like to buy the lanterns in animal or flower shapes which are sold in Chinese sundry shops, night markets or wet markets, or at the nearest shopping centre.

During the festival, parents allow children to stay up late, and take them to high vantage points to light their lanterns and watch the moon rise before eating their mooncakes.

This article was published in the Star By Lim Nee Ean (First published in The Star on 16/ 9/99)

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival to all my friends and readers.

You Might Also Like


Popular Posts