"Gardening makes my heart bloom" -- mum

"The hardest thing of all is to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if there is no cat." -- Confucius

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Mooncake Festival

Lotus seed filling with double salted yolk mooncake
The Mooncake Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, Lantern Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival, is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month.  The date is never the same as it is determined by the September equinox – when daylight and darkness are equal in length.  This year, the festival falls on the 22nd September.  [According to Wikipedia, the equinox occurs on the 23rd September at precisely 03:09 UTC.  UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) replaced GMT as the basis for the main referene time scale in various regions on 1 January 1972.]

This festival is celebrated by many East Asian and Southeast Asian cultures.  On this day the Chinese pray to the Moon Goddess for protection, family unity and good fortune.  Round mooncakes are eaten as it is symbolic of family unity and closeness.  Today, this custom has become less popular with 'city folks'.  In fact, the Moon Goddess had ceased to exist for some in the late sixties when some astronaut placed his big fat footprints on the moon!
Red bean (adzuki) filling with salted yolk mooncake
My best memories of living in the tropics were of going to my grandparents’ house on festival night where four generations gathered to eat, pray and play (for the adults, some small scale gambling!).  We sat outdoors to watch the moon rise, formed a procession of lanterns, played with sparklers and fireworks, listened to stories and sang.  Vast quantities of mooncakes, pomeloes, sugarcanes, groundnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, sarsaparilla, orange squash and beers were consumed.  When the moon had risen high enough, we gathered at the altar to light joss sticks and prayed for the family’s health, wealth and happiness through the year.  This would include asking for good exam grades for the children! Then it was all hands on deck to build a mountain of joss paper to be burnt as offerings.  These were folded paper creations in the shapes of lotus flowers and taels (ancient Chinese gold ingots) that had taken days and weeks to make.  The bonfire was the highlight for me.
Moon rising over the back garden during the September equinox
There are many legends relating to this festival.  The one told to me by my dad and which made the most sense relates to the overthrow of Mongol rule in China.  During the Song dynasty when the Mongols invaded and captured Southern China, the rebel leaders came up with a plan to communicate with the people without raising suspicion.  Cakes shaped like the moon and stuffed with sweet fillings were made.  Inside each cake was a piece of paper with the message: ‘rise against the Tartars on the 15th day of the 8th Moon'. On the night of the rebellion, the full moon lit the way and those who were unable to fight or were injured hid in sugarcane plantations to escape slaughter by the Mongols. The Mongols were eventually overthrown and the Ming dynasty was created.

Happy Mooncake Festival!


Matron said...

There is definitely something amazing about looking at a full moon on a clear night. Any member of the emergency services, especially ambulance and A&E will also tell you that people go a bit loopy on a full moon and it is the busiest time of the month for fights and drunkenness!

Dim Sum Gardener said...

Agree, try looking at a full moon through a pair of binoculars or telescope and you will be spellbound. I tend to avoid going out on full moon evenings although the cats love it!