People in different parts of China celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival in different ways, but one traditional custom is shared by all - eating cakes shaped like the moon.
As the name suggests, the Mid-Autumn Festival takes place in the middle of autumn. The month August was considered to be the second (or the middle) month of autumn, and the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day (the middle) of the eighth month in the lunar calendar each year. This year, the festival will take place on Sept 12.
There are many different beliefs regarding the origin of the moon cake. One theory suggests that moon cakes were originally used as vessels to pass secret messages, where people sneaked slips of paper in the filling of the pastry. Others believe that people paid respect to the lady that lived on the moon – Chang'e (along with her pet the jade rabbit) – by presenting exquisitely prepared desserts. Either way, the tradition was passed on, and the pastry has become the moon cakes we eat today.
The authenticity of either theory, or any for that matter, regarding the origin of the Moon Cake remains uncertain, but one thing is for sure - the Mid-Autumn Festival is incomplete without moon cakes.
The status of the moon cake during the Mid-Autumn Festival is equivalent to that of roasted turkey on Christmas Eve or chocolates on Valentine's Day; it's just indispensable.
The moon cake the must-have for any celebration of this traditional festival, not only because of its taste, but more so for its cultural and artistic connotations. With more flavors to choose from and ever-so-delicate packaging, enjoying moon cakes in the midst of fall, perhaps with a cup green tea or fragrant Chinese wine, has already become an artistic experience.
Moon cakes are round pastries commonly filled with lotus paste and seeds, red bean paste, ham or salted duck's egg yolk. The surface of the cakes are often patterned with clouds, the moon and rabbits, each symbolic and significant for the Mid-Autumn Festival.
The cakes are round, a shape that symbolizes reunions for the Chinese. Exchange of gifts among families and friends during the festival is one of the most amicable customs in China. Strolling under the gentle moon light is a good choice for the hopeless romantics. Even for the couples that are miles apart, admiring the silver moon under the same sky would emotionally pull them closer at that very hour.
The custom of eating moon cakes dates back thousands of years and is closely tied to Chinese culture and history. A considerable number of ancient Chinese poets have penned beautiful poems and writings about the festival and the cake.
So, whether you have had these delicious treats before or never even heard of them, be sure to get at least one on Sept 12. Enjoying a moon cake under the brightly lit full moon on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival is a one of a kind, emotionally fulfilling and artistically inspiring experience.
Don't miss it.