China’s Mid-Autumn Festival, also called the Moon Festival, is the second most important holiday of the year after the Lunar New Year. The event occurs on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month (September 30, 2012) and coincides with the National Day holiday, so festivities last for a full week. If you’ll be visiting China during the Mid-Autumn Festival, here’s what you need to know to make the most of this special time of year.
Customs and Traditions
Moon cakes – Moon cakes are as synonymous with the Mid-Autumn Festival as fruitcake is to Christmas, and the small, paper weight-heavy pastries are viewed with a similar mixture of disdain and nostalgia by many Chinese. If you have a sweet tooth and haven’t ever tried a moon cake, you may be pleasantly surprised. The little round cakes, meant to symbolize the full moon, usually come filled with salty egg yolk, sweet bean paste or lotus seed paste among other flavors. Nearly every grocery store will carry then throughout September, and even companies like Starbucks and Haagen Dazs stock their own variations of the sweets during the holiday.
Moon gazing – Holidays in China tend to be much more family oriented than in the West. On the night of the mid-autumn full moon, families gather around outdoor tables, sipping on tea and munching on the moon cakes that make the rounds as gifts, while admiring the full moon and chatting the night away.
Gambling – Moon cake gambling is a Mid-Autumn Festival tradition unique to the Fujian province on China’s southeastern coast. Walking through the island city of Xiamen, you’ll hear dice clinking against the sides of metal bowls in a Yatzee-like game for prizes. Shops, restaurants, bars and apartment complexes all set up moon cake gambling tables in the weeks leading up to the festival.
Where to Go
The Mid-Autumn Festival is held throughout China (and elsewhere in Asia) but if you could pick one place to be, it should be Hangzhou. The city’s West Lake is arguably the most popular place in China to watch the full moon from the numerous viewing pavilions. The city hosts cultural performances throughout the day and into the night with a fireworks show to wrap up the celebration.