Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival Traditions & Activities

The Mid-Autumn Festival, also called the Moon Festival, is the second most important traditional festival in China, after the Chinese New Year. It’s an important time for families to be reunited, similar to Thanksgiving Day in the West.

What do Chinese people do on Moon Festival day? How do they celebrate the festival? Well, Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations may vary in different parts of China, but eating mooncakes is a must. Read on to see more fun activities of Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations.

Eating Mooncakes

Moon cakes, also called harvest cakes, palace cakes, reunion cakes, etc., were the sacrificial offerings for worshipping the moon god during the Mid-Autumn Festival in ancient times. Later, Chinese people gradually took the Mid-Autumn Festival as an important date for a family reunion and began to taste moon cakes as a form of celebration.

Round moon cakes symbolize reunion, and people regard them as festive food, gifts to relatives/friends, and offering for the moon. Up to now, eating moon cakes has become a must-have custom for Mid-Autumn Festival all over the country.

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  • Mid-Autumn Festival Traditions: Eat Mooncakes

    Making Festive Lanterns

    On the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, there is a custom of lighting lanterns to echo the moonlight. Nowadays, there is still a custom of stacking tiles into a tower and burning lights on it in the Hubei and Hunan regions. In the areas of Zhengjiang, south of Jiangsu and Shanghai, local people make river lanterns for the festival.

    In the early 20th century, making lanterns got more popular in many places, especially in Guangdong. According to the article at that time, every family used bamboo sticks to make paper lanterns ten days before the festival, on which “Celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival” was written. The lanterns were of different colors with various themes and shapes like fruits, birds, animals, fish, or insects.

    The lanterns with a burning candle inside were tied to bamboo poles with ropes, erected on tile eaves or terraces. The lanterns hanging in the wealthy family can be more than 10 meters high. The family gathers under the light to drink and enjoy, while ordinary people erect a flagpole with two smaller lanterns and also have their pleasure. The lanterns of the Mid-Autumn Festival are second only to those of the Lantern Festival in scale.

    Mid-Autumn Festival Traditions: Lighting Lanterns

    Appreciating Osmanthus & Drinking Osmanthus Wine/Tea

    In Chinese legend, there is a huge osmanthus tree on the moon. Usually, osmanthus blooms around the period of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Traditionally Chinese people eat various foods made of sweet-scented osmanthus flowers, mostly are cakes and candies.

    On the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, looking up at osmanthus in the moon, smelling bursts of flower fragrance, drinking a cup of sweet-scented osmanthus wine or tea, enjoying the sweetness of the family, people can have a lovely moment of the festival.

    Mid-Autumn Festival Traditions: Drink Osmanthus Tea

    Watching the tides of Qiantang River

    Up to now, watching the tides of the Qiantang River in Zhejiang has been another Mid-Autumn Festival event since West Han Dynasty (202-8 BC). Therefore, it has a long history. The trumpet-shaped river mouth connects with the East China Sea, causing enormous tides. It is believed that the tides in the 8th lunar month are the most magnificent. Yanguan Town (盐官镇) is regarded as the best spot to watch the tidal bore.

    Watching the tides of Qiantang River

    Various Celebrations of the Mid-Autumn Festival in China

    Wuxi of Jiangsu Province

    People in Wuxi have a complete set of customs for the Mid-Autumn Festival: when they wake up in the morning, they eat candied taro with sweet-scented osmanthus as a featured festive snack. Some people will prepare a "Happiness Banquet" at noon in memory of their ancestors during the reunion festival.

    It is a sacrificial ceremony of the family. There will only be one big plate on the table, which contains five vegetarian dishes, four types of fruit, and a few cups of rice wine. It is not required to serve rice and burn the gold and silver-colored foil. The focus of the Mid-Autumn Festival is that at night, the whole family should reunite as much as possible to eat the "Mid August Dinner".

    In addition, there is another custom of Wuxi people that remains today, that is, after the Mid-Autumn Festival dinner, every household must "burn the heavenly incense" in the courtyard or courtyard to worship the moon. After the dusk fell, every household moved the table out of the house and placed moon cakes, chestnuts, ginkgo seeds, and other snacks. An incense burner is in the center of the table with a big square bowl mouth and small and round bottom. A bunch of incense sticks can burn for quite a while.

    Worship the Moon on Mid-autumn Day

    According to old generations, the purpose of "burning incense" is to pray to Chang'e, who will bring peace and tranquility to the world, and prevent separations of family members. Traditionally it is the responsibility of the women and children to worship the moon. When the lit incense is finished, the adults will share the mooncakes and snacks with the children. Some naughty children will run around the village to ask their neighbors for some snacks they don’t have at home.

  • Check out the legend of Chang’e
  • Sichuan

    Besides eating moon cakes, people in Sichuan also eat sticky rice cakes, ducks, sesame pancakes, honey pancakes and so on. In some places, tangerine lanterns are also lit and hung at the door for celebrations. Some children insert incense sticks on pomelo and sway it around them along the street, adding more fun to the festival. During the Mid-Autumn Festival in Jiading County, they worship the god of earth, play local dramas and folk music.

    children insert incense sticks on pomelos

    Jiangxi

    On the evening of the Mid-Autumn Festival, in Ji’an County of Jiangxi Province, every village heated crock pots by burning straws underneath. After the pot turns very hot, put some vinegar into it. Then there will be a special fragrance that pervades every corner of the village.

    North China: Shandong and Shanxi

    In North China, farmers in Qingyun County, Shandong Province pay homage to the god of earth and grains during the Mid-Autumn Festival. In addition to offering sacrifices to the moon, people in Zhucheng, Linyi, and Jimo also go to their ancestors’ cemetery to worship and pray. People in Jimo eat a special festive food called "Maijian" – a kind of stuffed pancake.

    In Lu'an of Shanxi Province, a dinner will be hosted for the son-in-law on the day. While in Datong, moon cakes are also called reunion cakes, people there usually stay up all night for the celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

    Jimo Maijian Pancake

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