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20 September 2020

Mid-Autumn Festival - Asia

22 June 2024

Hello from Sai Gon. As we just had our first autumn new moon, it's time to start preparing for the Mid-Autumn Festival. If we wanted to find an equivalent of this holiday in the Polish calendar, it is the closest to Harvest Festival.

This is a special time. The rainy season is slowly ending and the dry season is coming. In the Buddhist calendar, it's time to apologize. For everyone and for everything. It is also a time to thank you for the rich harvest of rice. Just for a peace of mind. And by the way, it's time for family gatherings and gift-giving moon cookies.

In two weeks from today, during the first full moon in autumn, this holiday will culminate. The time of the festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. This day falls on average between mid-September and mid-October. In line with the rhythm of the lunar calendar. This year it is October 2nd. Exactly on the night of the first full moon in autumn, which is called the "harvest moon".

While waiting for the full moon, I will lead you through the meanders of the Mid-Autumn Festival.


China, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore are the main places of celebration.

Nevertheless, this holiday is celebrated practically throughout Asia. Laos, India, the Philippines and Indonesia also celebrate the first full moon of autumn.

Although different countries have slightly different rituals, they all center around three main pillars.

The first pillar is family meetings. Entire families come together to celebrate a good harvest, consistently forge closer family ties, and tell stories by the full moon.

The second pillar of this holiday is thanksgiving. For a rich harvest, for harmony in the family, for a happy survival of another year in good health.

Expressing hope for a successful future is included in the third pillar of the holiday, which is meditation, burning incense and praying to the gods for support, beauty, offspring and long life. In short, a bright future.

Imagine that the first records of this fall festival date back to the 16th century BC. The form in which Asia now celebrates this festival was created between the 6th and 9th centuries AD.

The fact is, that family and consent have always been at the heart of this festival. It is also the time when Asia was preparing for the coming winter in the northern and central parts, and for the dry season in the south of the continent.

As you probably already know, rice is the staple food in Asia. The cultivation of this grain requires an unusual amount of water. The approaching dry season usually caused problems to feed the population, as the rivers and streams that provide water for irrigation of rice fields lacked water.



Dragons, lanterns and mooncakes

I write these words to you on September 20th, so we are two weeks before the full moon is about to come.

Meanwhile, Asia is already getting ready to celebrate. The streets are full of stalls and cookie shops. Colorful lanterns appear. Children and teenagers train and prepare for the "Dance of Dragons" show.

In Viet Nam, interestingly, this is what is called the "Youth Festival", as the Vietnamese consider children "innocent beings", having a direct connection with the gods and the "beyond".

It is the children and teenagers who are preparing for a wonderful procession these days, where the main attraction will be the dragon dance. In Asia, we believe that a dancing dragon will provide more rainfall, which will also contribute to the survival of the rice crops in the coming dry season.

As I just mentioned, this tradition is very old and closely related to the season.

Harvest Festival - Mid-Autumn Festival also has its own characteristic rituals.

One of them is mooncake gifting.

If you want to describe these cookies, they are a bit reminiscent of the Polish gingerbread "Katarzynki" due to the consistency of the dough. Quite compact but soft. They are filled with a filling made of peas, beans and sometimes lotus mixed with an egg.

These cakes usually take the shape of a circle, as the circle in Buddhism's symbolism represents fulfillment, wholeness, full value or perfection.

Every year, millions of mooncakes intricately wrapped in beautiful cardboard boxes are a key gift. The cartons are packed in large, decorative boxes similar to chocolates boxes, but the scale is slightly different.

Mooncake is the size of a donut, not chocolates, so these boxes are the size of a small suitcase. Nevertheless, just such sets of moon cakes are the most popular gift these weeks during family visits, meetings with friends or at companies.

An interesting fact in China is that there are pyramids made of moon cakes to symbolize a pagoda. There must be thirteen of them on each layer. The basic layer, consisting of 13 cakes, each of which is several centimeters in diameter, can form a several-meter circle that is the basis of such pagodas. Why 13 cookies? Generally 13 represents the thirteen months of the lunar year in Asia. Additionally, it is not considered an unlucky number.

The second symbol that is associated with this holiday are colorful lanterns.

A typical symbol used in Southeast Asia. In Viet Nam, Malaysia and Singapore the name "Lantern Festival" is also used.

Please do not confuse this "lantern festival" with another, which takes place on the 15th day of the first month of the Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year, which always falls in January or February. As you can see, however, the love of colored lights is common throughout Asia. Whenever there is an opportunity, they are lit, creating beautiful lighting effects.

They are hung on poles, on houses and in gardens. You walk these lanterns in the streets, sharing your smile and joy that we have just finished the harvest that will allow us to survive the dry season in Southeast Asia or the winter in the north of the continent. It is really fantastic when after dark, when it gets dark and only the moon is shining in the sky, thousands of people are out on the streets. Everyone, adults and kids, young and old, with a lantern and a mooncake in hand.

It takes two weeks from now to wait for the first full moon in autumn. It was now that the preparations began. The streets are getting colorful, there are seasonal stands selling mooncakes, in parks and squares you can see training "dragon teams", i.e. children and young people preparing for processions. Lanterns and cookies dominate the shopping list.

The fact is, each region of Asia celebrates in its own way. In many countries, such as Malaysia or Singapore, it is a day off. In China, on the continent and on the islands, too, preparations are in full swing. In countries such as Laos, Myanmar or Cambodia, games and activities similar to those from Polish weddings are very popular.

This holiday is also an occasion to give each other the so-called "lucky money". The closest give each other red envelopes containing small amounts of money. According to customary legend, it is supposed to bring good luck and prosperity in the difficult time ahead.

Next week I will invite you to visit Singapore during the festival. You will see how beautifully this city is celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival. And they don't mind that they don't have their own crops, so they don't have a harvest. In Asia, any occasion for celebration is good.

In two weeks is the first autumn full moon when, according to legends, every wish comes true.

Are you ready? Do you already have a wish? 



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