The Mid-Autumn Festival - |Stories of the Mid-Autumn Festival|Houyi and Change|The Hare - Jade Rabbit|


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The Mid-Autumn Festival
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The Mid-Autumn Festival

The Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, which is usually around late September or early October in the Gregorian calendar. It is a date that parallels the autumnal equinox of the solar calendar, when the moon is supposedly at its fullest and roundest. The traditional food of this festival is the mooncake, of which there are many different varieties. 

The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the few most important holidays in the Chinese calendar, the others being Chinese New Year and Winter Solstice, and is a legal holiday in several countries. Farmers celebrate the end of the summer harvesting season on this date. Traditionally on this day, Chinese family members and friends will gather to admire the bright mid-autumn harvest moon, and eat moon cakes and pomelos together. Accompanying the celebration, there are additional cultural or regional customs, such as:
Eating mooncakes outside under the moon
Putting pomelo rinds on one's head
Carrying brightly lit lanterns, lighting lanterns on towers, floating sky lanterns
Burning incense in reverence to deities including Chang'e (simplified Chinese: 嫦娥)
Planting Mid-Autumn trees
Collecting dandelion leaves and distributing them evenly among family members
Fire Dragon Dances
Shops selling mooncakes before the festival often display pictures of Chang'e floating to the moon.

Stories of the Mid-Autumn Festival
Houyi and Chang'e

The story of the fateful night when Chang'e was lifted up to the moon, familiar to most Chinese citizens, is a favorite subject of poets. Unlike many lunar deities in other cultures who personify the moon, Chang'e simply lives on the moon but is not the moon per se. Tradition places Houyi and Chang'e around 2170 BC, in the reign of the legendary Emperor Yao, shortly after that of Huangdi. 

There are so many variations and adaptations of the Chang'e legend that one can become overwhelmed and utterly confused. However, most legends about Chang'e in Chinese mythology involve some variation of the following elements: Houyi, the Archer, Chang'e, the mythical Moon Goddess of Immortality; an emperor, either benevolent or malevolent; an elixir of life. It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Houyi.

Here is one version:

Once upon a time, the earth had ten suns. They burned the crops and people suffered infertility. Houyi sympathized with humans, so he decided to shoot down nine suns and leave one for the benefit of the people. After he shot down the suns, he was treated as a hero. He had a beautiful wife named Chang'e, and they lived happily together. Houyi had a many apprentices; they followed him to learn hunting. One day, on Houyi’s way back home, the emperor of the immortals gave Houyi two pills, each of which granted eternal life as a reward for shooting down the suns, one was for Houyi, and the other for his wife. He warned Houyi, “Make no haste to swallow the pill.” Houyi was to wait until New Years Day, on which he and Chang'e were supposed to eat the pills together. Chang’e put the pill in her jewelry box for safekeeping. But Peng, one of Houyi’s apprentices, discovered their secret and decided to steal the pill. One day, when Houyi and other apprentices went to the mountain, Peng pretended to be sick so that he could stay home. After everyone had gone to the mountain, Peng sneaked into Chang’e’s room and forced her to give him the pill. Chang’e knew she couldn't fight Peng, so she ate the pill herself. However, after eating it alone, she began to float. Unable to come back to earth, she took flight and flew far, far away. She did not want to leave her husband, so she stopped at the moon, which is the body closest to Earth. After Houyi found out what happened, he was very angry and heartbroken. He looked up into the night and called Chang’e’s name. He discovered that inside the moon there was a lady’s shadow that look like Chang’e, so he ran and ran and tried to reach the moon. He failed due to the wind. 

The Hare - Jade Rabbit
A depiction of Chang'e and the Jade RabbitAccording to tradition, the Jade Rabbit pounds medicine, together with the lady, Chang'er, for the gods. Others say that the Jade Rabbit is a shape, assumed by Chang'e herself. You may find that the dark areas to the top of the full moon may be construed as the figure of a rabbit. The animal's ears point to the upper right, while at the left are two large circular areas, representing its head and body.
In this legend, three fairy sages transformed themselves into pitiful old men, and begged for food from a fox, a monkey, and a hare. The fox and the monkey both had food to give to the old men, but the hare, empty-handed, jumped into a blazing fire to offer his own flesh instead. The sages were so touched by the hare's sacrifice and act of kindness that they let him live in the Moon Palace, where he became the "Jade Rabbit". 

The moon festival will occur on these days in coming years:    
     2010: September 22       2011: September 12
     2012: September 30       2013: September 19
     2014: September 8      2015: September 27
     2016: September 15      2017: October 4
     2018: September 24      2019: September 13
     2020: October 1  

    Relative Links:
    The Mid-Autumn Festival
    The Lantern Festival
    The DuanWu Festival
    Holidays in China
    China Geography
    Chinese History
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