One of the biggest Chinese celebrations in Malaysia, the Mid-Autumn Festival is eagerly anticipated by many and you’ll see colourful lanterns in parades and decorations, mooncakes sold by the box and – if you’re lucky – a beautiful full moon.
The 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar (24 September this year). It’s said that during this time, the moon is at its biggest and fullest.
There are many theories as to the origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival (pronounced chung chiu chieh). The most widely accepted one is that people give thanks for a good harvest as it coincides with the harvest moon. The full moon also symbolises gathering and reunion, so friends and family will often come together to celebrate.
A popular legend has it that there was once a hero, Hou Yi, who shot down nine of the ten original suns in the sky – which is why we only have one now. However, he became a cruel king who wanted to live forever, so he had immortality pills created. To stop him, his wife, Chang’e (chahng-er), downed the pills and escaped to the moon, thereafter being worshipped as the Moon Goddess during this festival.
The ‘Lantern Festival’ name has become synonymous with the Mid-Autumn Festival in Singapore and Malaysia, but not in China, where both are separate celebrations. China holds a Spring Lantern Festival (Mandarin name: yuan xiao jie) on the 15th day of the first month in the lunar calendar, marking the final day of the Chinese New Year festivities. This is also said to be the first full moon night in the Chinese calendar.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is widely celebrated in Malaysia and many malls will organise lantern displays, parades, dragon dances, musical performances and other activities around that period.
Lanterns are sold in most supermarkets and Chinese sundry shops, while mooncakes can also be ordered from bakeries and hotels for eating or to give as gifts to family and friends. People, especially families with young children, usually hold ‘moongazing’ parties to enjoy the beauty of the full moon (weather permitting) while eating mooncakes, drinking tea and playing with lanterns (watch out for fire hazards, parents). Offerings of food and drink are also made to ancestors and gods upon the family altar.