Original: from the Moon worship to the Mid-autumn Festival
The Mid-autumn Festival originated from the custom of moon worship in the ancient China. And the custom of moon worships dated back to the Zhou Dynasty more than 3,000 years ago. The ancient emperor then regarded the sun as the masculine and the moon as the feminine. So, people would worship the lunar deity at night in the autumn of the lunar calendar. For thousands of years, such imperial sacrificial activities have gradually evolved into the folk moon worship and moon watching. Although the contents of this festival have changed since many dynasties passed, but its date on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month has seldom changed.
Why on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month?
There are several reasons for the Mid-autumn Festival was set on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month.
First, from the perspective of natural condition, we take the 8th lunar month as the Mid-autumn Festival, for the seventh, eight and ninth lunar months being to autumn and the eighth is just in the middle. And the moon on the 15th day is especially round and bright. In the autumn, it is a little humid. But the humid would be driven away by dry and cold wind from the north. So, the weather at this period of time would be very fine and the moon is also especially bright.
What’s more, because we can see the full moon clearly, it’s easy for us to associate the moon with a relation among people and expect to reunite with relatives. Of course, this is also a harvest season when people would feel pleasant. In such a pleasant festival, people always wish the world could be perfectly satisfactory and families could gather together. All these factors make this festival be arranged in the Mid-autumn Festival.
Documented about the Mid-autumn Festival
About the Mid-autumn Festival, the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, there are many poems in the Tang Dynasty. It’s counted that in the “Complete Tang Poems”, there are 111 people with the title of “Mid-autumn Festival” or “the 15th day of the 8th lunar month”. In the Tang Dynasty. Actually, there was already the term, the “15th day of the 8th lunar month”, But, no documents have clearly stated that the Mid-autumn was a festival and how the people celebrated it.
Until the Song Dynasty, the books, “Dongjing Meng Hua Lu”, and “Meng Liang Lu”, clearly recorded that the Mid-autumn was already a festival in the Song Dynasty. It’s recorded that in the Northern Song Dynasty, on the Mid-autumn Festival, people would buy a lot of liquors. Sometimes, after a shop sold up its liquors, it would put away its signboard. All people celebrated this festival happily. And said that at that time, there were also some imperial tributes like grapes and mooncakes.
The “Rainbow-Skirt Feathered-Dress Dance” 霓裳羽衣曲
The “Rainbow-Skirt Feathered-Dress Dance” was praised as a melody that could only be heard in the heaven but rarely on the earth.
The melody is known as “the melody from the moon” is the “Rainbow-Skirt Feathered-Dress Dance”, a classic of the Chinese Tang Dynasty. It’s said that the melody was composed by Li Longji, the Emperor Tang Dynasty, in the Mid-autumn Festival. During the reign of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang, the melodious sound of the “Rainbow-Skirt Feathered-Dress Dance” would spread in the imperial palace every Mid-autumn Festival. It’s very vigorous, and it makes us calm. It’s very intoxicating as if we were in a fairyland on the earth.
Legend of the “Rainbow-Skirt Feathered-Dress Dance”
One day, exactly, on a Mid-autumn Festival night, Li Longji, the Emperor of Tang Dynasty, was watching the moon very excited when suddenly he came up with an idea. He wanted to go to the moon. So he consulted the imperial astronomer. The imperial astronomer said no problem. So, he sent the emperor to the moon where he heard a melody and saw the dance of the fairies. Then, he became excited and memorized this melody.
On the way back, exactly, in Luzhou, today’s Changzhi of Shanxi Province. In the bright and clear moonlight, the whole world was quiet. Then, the emperor said, “Ah, how enchanting that melody and dance are!” The imperial astronomer said. “Why don’t you play this melody here with a jade flute? The emperor agreed. So he played this melody with a jade flute. Then, before he left, he and some attendants spread some money from their pockets in the Luzhou city. More than ten days later, the officials of Luzhou reported to the emperor that on the night of the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, they heard the melody from the heaven and picked some money. It was an auspicious sign.
It’s said that later the emperor asked the imperial astronomer. “Can I go there again”? The imperial astronomer smiled and said, only on the night of the 15th day of the 8th lunar month could the emperor visit the moon palace. So, in the folklore, the “Rainbow-Skirt Feathered-Dress Dance” and the 15th day of the 8th lunar month are linked together. So, in that time, in the Tang Dynasty, people already celebrated the Mid-autumn Festival on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month.
Three symbols of the Mid-Autumn festival (mooncakes, goddess of the moon and Rabbit God)
1) when is the earliest time when mooncakes first appear?
The earliest mooncakes appeared a long time ago. For some round foods, we called them “cake”. In those days, cakes were always baked, steamed or cooked in many other methods. As for its special name “cake”, it could date back to the Tang Dynasty. In the Tang Dynasty, it is said that after a general won battles, he brought some “hu cake” from the western regions. When the emperor and the queen (the Imperial Concubine Yang) enjoying the moon, they ate “hu cake”.
After eating some, they thought it was tasty. Then the emperor said to the queen (the Imperial Concubine Yang), this “hu cake” was so delicious but its name was not good. Could you change a name for it? The queen (the Imperial Concubine Yang) agreed and she looked at the moon which was round as the “hu cake”. So she said mooncake was good and it was better than “hu cake”. So some people say the name of the mooncake come from “hu cake”.
2) Why eat mooncakes during the Mid-autumn Festival?
There is a Chinese folk story about it. It is widely believed that in the late Yuan Dynasty, the massed began to raise a rebellion against the Yuan Dynasty. Zhu Yuangzhang, the leader of the insurrectionary army, prepared to ally various insurgent forces to attack the Great Capital of the Yuan Dynasty. But officers and soldiers were strict in checking contact letters, so it was difficult for them to pass on the message of rebellion. Liu Bowen, the military counselor in Zhu Yuangzhang’s army, came up with a plan that he proposed to hide scrips written with “Uprise on the Mid-autumn Festival Night” in cakes and then gave out cakes to those soldiers to inform them about the rebellion. On the Mid-autumn Festival, insurgent forces who had received cakes responded highly and the great capital of the Yuan Dynasty was occupied soon.
After Zhu Yuanzhang became the emperor, he was so glad that awarded “mooncakes” once used to pass on message secretly as gifts to all ministers. Therefore, there is a custom of eating mooncakes in Mid-autumn Festival. The fact is that its real origin is hard to know. But we can definitely say that the very time when mooncakes are used as sacrificial offerings is from Ming Dynasty.
In the Ming Dynasty, it is assured that people would eat mooncakes on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month.
2, Chang’e (a beautiful goddess of the moon) and toadBesides eating mooncakes in the Mid-autumn Festival, most people watch the moon. In China, there are many tales about the moon.
In “Classic of Mountains and Seas” exists description of the sun and the moon. It describes that a three-legged crow lives in the sun. So we usually call the sun Golden Crow. Simultaneously, “Classic of Mountains and Seas,” says that the moon is a toad, it is a symbol of the moon.
In fact, the toad was the idol for many tribes and ethnicities. It originated from such a fact that frogs are productive. And its stomach will be flat sometimes and be bulged in another time. Which is like the shape of waxing and waning of the moon. In ancient times, people worshiped toads. It mainly rooted in a kind of reproduction worship. Toads are very fertile. A toad can produce 5,000 spawns once. Therefore, in the view of the ancients, toads symbolized fertility and happiness.
Besides, they are nocturnal. Tradition has it that people treated them as the embodiment of the moon, and even think the Chang’e, the goddess of the moon flying to the moon and turned into a toad. So, almost all ancient women would worship the moon and the goddess of the moon in the Mid-autumn Festival to express their wishes of having more children and more happiness. Among the people, the tradition that “men don’t worship the moon” has been reserved all the time.
That’s also the reason why the ancient Chinese people also call the moon as the toad.
3, Jade Rabbit and Rabbit God on the moon, of course, we know there is a so-called Jade Rabbit
There’s a legend about the Jade Rabbit, that a plague hit the capital city one year. Many common people fell ill, and taking medicine was of no use. Chang’e, the goddess of the moon in the heaven felt very sorry for the common people suffering from torture, so she sent the Jade Rabbit to the earth to eliminate the plague. The Jade Rabbit cured the sickness and saved the patient from door to door, helping people go through the disaster. The Jade Rabbit didn’t ask return for its deeds of merit, and it only borrowed clothes from people to wear. So the Jade Rabbit had many images then. In order to thank the Jade Rabbit, people began to worship the Jade Rabbit as Rabbit God. The Rabbit God just became a target for ancient men and children to worship in the Mid-autumn Festival.
So people call it Rabbit God who is in the general’s costume. These above are its two long ears. It is in an embroidered robe, helmet. In general, it also rides on a tiger or other animals. Such a Rabbit God may not be a very serious and august object for worship from beginning to end. But it does give us a special and grateful expectation.
Chinese ethnic minorities
About twenty minorities celebrate the Mid-autumn Festival, such as the Axi people, a branch of the Yi people, celebrate it with dancing under the moon. When the Axi people dance under the moon, they form a circle, celebrating the Mid-autumn Festival in the most excited mood and happiest atmosphere. Their dance reflects their appreciation, worshiping and reverence toward the moon and expresses their gratitude to the harvest and the happy life as well.
Except for Axi’s dancing under the moon, a straw dragon dance in the Mid-autumn Festival prevails in some regions in Zhejiang Province. As for the straw dragon dance, it twists a large rope with straws first, and then bundles a dragon head and tail two ends of the rope, so that a dragon is formed. Plug burning incenses on the rope and villagers perform the straw dragon dance with burning incenses on the sunning ground. With the straw dragon dancing, sparks fly everywhere.
Reunion and Missing become the constant theme of the Mid-autumn Festival
From time immemorial, many poems about come down and have been appreciated by later generations. On a Mid-autumn Festival night, Su Shi (a great poet in Song Dynasty) drank a lot and got drunk heavily at that time, then he suddenly thought of his younger brother. So, he wrote a very famous poem of “Wishing We Last Forever (但願人長久)”. In this poem, although Su Shi expressed the sadness of toiling in obscurity, he further showed his endless yearning for his younger brother Su Zhe.
Wishing We Last ForeverWhen will the moon be clear and bright? With a cup of wine in hand, I ask the blue sky.I don’t know what time of the year, it would be in the palace on high. Though a thousand miles apart, we are still able to share the beauty of the moon together.
In the Mid-autumn Festival in A.D. 1076, the 41-year-old Su Shi hadn’t reunited with his families for seven years because of political exile. In the seven years, Su Shi held a variety of government positions throughout China. He had asked for transfer many times, hoping to be close to his younger brother Su Zhe. But this wish never came true. Being separated from families for many years made Su Shi miss families so much in this Mid-autumn Festival. Taking advantage of tipsy feeling and looking at the bright moon, Su Shi finished this Mid-autumn Festival masterpiece which has been handed down for thousands of years.
This poem depicts the moon and meanwhile, it expresses the yearning for families in the Mid-autumn Festival. He said, “Is it because men had made any mistakes, the moon tends to be full when our families were apart?” he thought of his brother, Then, without waiting, he said that maybe he shouldn’t think so, because men’s partings and reunions were like the moon’s waxing and waning. They are very common from ancient times to the present, it’s quite difficult for us to change them as we wish. At this moment, his sole aspiration was that we all could look at the moon and live in the world forever. The last line “Though a thousand miles apart, we are still able to share the beauty of the moon together”. The moon indicates Chang’e who is a very charming female, but in fact here we use it to stand for the moon. It said that we were at different places, though we were miles apart, we shared the same moon together. The moon will connect you and me as if we were together. So this poem must be widely recited in the Mid-autumn Festival.
Reunion and Missing
Finally, the Mid-autumn Festival, if we can use one word to summarize it, it would be yearning. This is a festival for missing. To miss our families, miss our hometown, and miss our motherland. Especially for the overseas Chinese, when they meet the day of the Mid-autumn Festival, the ethnic Chinese in various regions, whether the chamber of commerce or the natives association, they organize lots of celebration activities.
Actually, the reunion is the communication of emotions, namely, sense of identity. If we all have such kind of emotion, it is likely that our society will be harmonious. Regarding festival, we have a deep understanding. Knowing its history and a lot of stories about it, our feelings will be different. With such feeling, we will love it protect it and inherit it to create a new life. It is the significance of the festival.