Celebrated every year in September or October, the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the same date, or very close to, the Autumn Equinox, the time of year where the daylight has as many hours as of the night – and it is also be considered a harvest festival. There are many tales and legends associated with the date and children get to enjoy a great part of them. Here in Macau, people get together in the evening before the public holiday which falls on September 25 this year. The city gets dressed in colorful and bright lanterns and, at home, friends exchange the big star of the season: the Mooncake.
As in the west with the big dates, the Moon Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival, has a story behind it too. If you have been in Macau before, you know that on this day parents take their children on nice evening strolls to gardens, the beach or around town. Children take a little lantern with them, it can be the traditional paper lantern with a small candle inside, or a nice plastic, battery-operated Hello Kitty. No matter the choice, the effect is utterly romantic. Young lovers go out too, hand in hand to take part in the festivities, and the city awakens with sighs and laughter. As for everything else, there is a reason for this too.
Once upon a time, legend tells us of Chang’e a rich maid who fell in love with Hou Yi, a poor peasant. There simply was no hope for their love in ancient China, and the couple suffered in silence. But one day, the morning rose bearing ten suns. The heat of suns ruined all the crops, creating a horrible drought. As food got sparse and the kingdom hungry, Hou Yi, who was himself a young but brave shooter, dared to climb to the top of the highest mountain and shoot the nine suns, one by one. When he got back down, he was crowned a hero and cherished by the kingdom.
He was also allowed to marry Chang’e, the love of his life. That day, to compensate him for his bravery, a goddess came to him and gave him a special elixir that would allow him to become immortal and live amongst the gods.
Yi did not want to leave Chang’e, so he let her keep the elixir for safekeeping. However, Feng Meng, one of his apprentices, knew this secret. So, on the fifteenth of August in the lunar calendar, Feng Meng burning with jealousy for his master’s luck, broke into Yi’s house and forced Chang’e to give him the elixir. Afraid of what he might do with such power, she refused, swallowing it instead.
Almost immediately, she flew into the sky stoping only once she reached the moon. That is why, on the same day every year, when the moon was the closest, Hou Yi would carry a lantern so that he would be seen by Chang’e who was looking over him from the moon.
A Mighty Cake
If you are too old for love stories, you should know that the Mooncake itself has a history. It is said that it played an important role during the fall of the Yuan Dynasty. Supposedly Mongol rule was overturned by the Ming revolutionaries who used these cakes as a medium to pass their messages. Some stories say they used hollow cakes, taking out the egg yolk inside, to hide these messages. Others suggest they used the custom of carving the Chinese characters of the top of the cake to create a kind of puzzle that could be put together.
Whether you are a hopeless romantic or a history buff, we strongly recommend you go out this September 15 and enjoy a festive ambience of the evening. My personal favourite is the Lou Lim Yeok garden but, in recent years, the Albergue has been known to host a good party! Oh and while you are at it, have a bite of lotus paste mooncake. For good luck you know?
Take a peek at Top 5 Places for Most Sought Mooncakes in Macau. From classic flavors to special concoctions with avant-garde ingredients, mooncake munching underneath the beautiful full moon will be more meaningful than ever before.