September 7, 2014
Moon Festival/Moon Cake Festival Monday 8th September 2014
While the Moon Festival originates from China the event is celebrated in Thailand (and Vietnam)
The festival celebrates three fundamental concepts which are closely tied to one another:
- Gathering, such as family and friends coming together, or harvesting crops
- Thanksgiving, to give thanks for the harvest, or for harmonious unions
- Praying (asking for conceptual or material satisfaction), such as for babies, a spouse, beauty, longevity, or for a good future
Origins: The ancient Chinese believed in rejuvenation being associated with the moon and water.
According to traditional Chinese legend, a beautiful girl named Chang E worked in the Jade Emperor’s palace in the kingdom of heaven, an idyllic place where people lived and worked amongst the immortals. One day Chang E angered the Jade Emperor (not known for forgiveness) when she accidentally broke a porcelain jar, and in his anger he banished her to Earth.
Once there, she was transformed into a member of a poor farming family. As she approached her teenage years, her beauty flourished. Admiring her beauty from afar, a hunter discovered Chang E viewing herself in the reflection of a pond. The two soon became lovers.
Sometime later, ten suns rose into the sky rather than one, casting an intense heat across the land. The hunter stepped forward and shot an arrow into the sky, successfully sinking the nine extra suns. Instantly becoming a hero and source of great admiration, with this new found fame the two were married. The two should have lived happily ever after, but unfortunately the hunter grew into a tyrant, ruling with a cruel and oppressive hand. He sought great power and ordered that an elixir be created in order to extend his own life. Chang E came upon it and unknowingly consumed the elixir, enraging her husband. Attempting to flee him, she jumped from the window of her palace bedroom, yet rather than falling, she simply floated through the sky towards the glowing moon.
The festival is a time to enjoy the successful reaping of rice and wheat with food offerings made in honour of the moon. Today, it is still an occasion for outdoor reunions among friends and relatives to eat mooncakes and gaze at the moon, as a symbol of harmony and unity.
Moon cakes are eaten at this time and hence why the festival is known by both names, they are traditionally round shaped and quite small pastries with a thin crust wrapping a sweet and oily filling. Within the centre of the pastry are nestled salted egg yolks, representing the shape of the moon. Though this may sound unappetising the salty flavour of the egg yolk manages to compliment the sweet outer pastry. Traditional mooncakes have an imprint on the top of the crust, signifying the name of the bakery, the Chinese characters for ‘harmony’, or identifying the flavour.
As with almost all things the festival is now more commercialised with different shapes (more commonly they are animal shaped in Vietnam) and fillings, from coffee and peanut butter to prune and sweet potato, choose any food imaginable and there is a corresponding mooncake flavour.
If you do nothing else this day look for a Chinese bakery and try a cake for yourself and if you get the chance, do look to the heavens and the moon and remember the beauty of Chang E.