Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Autumn Equinox

The Mid-Autumn Day Festival 中秋 zhōngqiūjié, also known as the Moon Festival, is a popular East Asian celebration of abundance and togetherness, dating back over 3,000 years to China's Zhou Dynasty.

In Malaysia 말레이시아 马来群岛 and Singapore 싱가포르 新加坡, it is also sometimes referred to as the Lantern Festival or "Moon cake Festival," which is just the same as "Mid-Autumn Festival" but with different names. As you might guess by this name, eating and giving moon cakes is a very popular thing to do this week.

The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the Chinese calendar, September in the Gregorian Calendar), a date that parallels the Autumn Equinox of the solar calendar. This is the ideal time, when the moon is at its fullest and brightest, to celebrate the abundance of the summer's harvest. The traditional food of this festival is the moon cake, of which there are many different varieties.

I’ve never been a big fan of moon cakes, though I remember being offered them many times. There is another time during the year that it is popular to eat moon cakes. Recently there had been debate in China about whether the cakes were becoming too sweet and therefore unhealthy. The other time that moon cakes are eaten is around the Chinese new year, if my memory serves me right. These two holidays are the most important in the Chinese calendar.

In Korea they celebrate 추석 Chu'sok which means, “fall evening.” It is a Korean "Harvest Moon" (Han-gawi) festival set on the 15th day of the eighth lunar moon. Early on this morning, some Koreans perform an ancestor worship ritual with an offer of food made of new crops to thank their ancestors for giving them good fortune.

This festival is a harvest moon festival, but it's also a Thanksgiving Day for the Korean people. This festival is one of the most important festivals in Korea.

Like the Chinese with their moon cakes, the Koreans eat songpyon (full-moon rice cakes stuffed with sesame, beans, chestnuts, or Chinese dates).

The celebration starts on the night before Chu’sok and ends on the day after the holiday. Thus, many Korean families take three days off from work to get together with family and friends. This year the holiday began on Monday, Sept. 24th and goes until Wednesday, Sept. 26th. This coupled with the weekend before gave Koreans 5 days during which they could easily travel to be with family.

Traditionally, the celebration starts with a family get-together where Songphyun are served. These special rice cakes are made of rice, beans, sesame seeds, and chestnuts. Then the family pays respect to ancestors by visiting their tombs and offering them rice and fruits. In the evening, children wear their favorite hanbok and dance under the bright moon in a large circle.

They play games and sing songs. Like the American Thanksgiving, Chu’sok is the time to celebrate the family and give thanks for their blessings. Tradition, however, is fading. I did not see any

dancing or singing under the moonlight.

In what ways is Mid-Autumn Day Festival changing in China? How closely is it observed? Is it disappearing?

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