Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival

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This is the season once more for mooncakes, reunions, and games. The festival has made Binondo bakers show off their mooncakes in elegant boxes and restaurants busy with sizeable reservations. This is, after all, the season of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

As the name implies, the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節) is celebrated during the 15th day of the eighth lunar month of the Chinese Calendar, which usually falls on the second week of September. As one of the four main Chinese festivals, the other three are the Spring (Chinese New Year) Festival, Duanwu (Dragon Boat) Festival, and Qingming (All Souls Day) Festival.

Moon worship—the practice associated with the festival—can be traced back 3,000 years ago when people hold ceremonies during full moon, in hopes that the lunar deity would grant them a bountiful harvest. But historical records show that the term mid-autumn was first documented during the Zhou Dynasty. Succeeding dynasties saw the unprecedented growth of the festivity. Although its purpose has since evolved, families continue to celebrate the mooncake festival.

According to legend, the Earth had 10 suns, which continuously scorched the planet. Hou Yi, an excellent archer, rose up to the occasion and shot nine of the suns down. As a reward for his achievement, the Queen of Heaven presented Hou Yi with an elixir that made him immortal. Eventually, fame made him corrupt with power. His wife, Chang’e, knew the repercussions should her husband drink the elixir. One day, while he was out hunting, she secretly drank the elixir and levitated into the atmosphere until Chang’e reached the moon. When news of her sacrifice reached the locals, they offered gifts as a symbol of gratitude.

Locally, we have dubbed the Mid-Autumn celebration as the Mooncake Festival. But this is a misnomer since it is the Moon—not the cake—that we celebrate.

So How Did Cake Enter The Picture?
When China was under the rule of the Mongols during the Yuan Dynasty, the Han planned an uprising. However, they face the improbable task of mobilizing without the Mongols discovering their plot. Liu Bowen, military counselor of Zhu Yuanzhang, thought of an ingenious plan: he told his soldiers to spread a rumor that the only way of being cured from the winter plaque is by eating—you guessed it—mooncakes.

They slipped a piece of paper with the words Uprising on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival in the cake and distributed these to the Han people. The plot worked, and huge, coordinated rebellion broke out that night. Since then, the Chinese eat mooncakes every year to commemorate the Han uprising.

Usually sold from 90 to 125 pesos each, these mooncakes come in three popular flavors: lotus, black bean paste, and four treasures. Despite the price, businessmen continue to buy in bulk and give them out as goodwill to suppliers and clients. Many establishments offer a free box for every 10 boxes bought. When my father worked as a manager at a Chinese restaurant, he was accustomed to customers who buy mooncakes by the hundreds! Other entrepreneurs buy as much as a thousand boxes and resell them in provinces.

On top of that, the restaurants are packed days before the festival, while some make reservations months in advance. As reunions are of utmost importance, family businesses and non-profit organizations celebrate the holiday over a sumptuous, eight-course Chinese lauriat.

They slipped a piece of paper with the words Uprising on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival in the cake and distributed these to the Han people. The plot worked, and huge, coordinated rebellion broke out that night. Since then, the Chinese eat mooncakes every year to commemorate the Han uprising.

Usually sold from 90 to 125 pesos each, these mooncakes come in three popular flavors: lotus, black bean paste, and four treasures. Despite the price, businessmen continue to buy in bulk and give them out as goodwill to suppliers and clients. Many establishments offer a free box for every 10 boxes bought. When my father worked as a manager at a Chinese restaurant, he was accustomed to customers who buy mooncakes by the hundreds! Other entrepreneurs buy as much as a thousand boxes and resell them in provinces.

On top of that, the restaurants are packed days before the festival, while some make reservations months in advance. As reunions are of utmost importance, family businesses and nonprofit organizations celebrate the holiday over a sumptuous, eightcourse Chinese lauriat.

This is then followed by the highly anticipated Mooncake Game, which involves a bowl and six dice. Ming General Zheng Chenggong is said to have invented the game for his soldiers deployed for battle as a way to combat homesickness during the festival. The six levels of prizes were named after the scholars of the imperial examinations: Xiucai, Juren, Jinshi, Tanhua, Bangyan, and Zhuangyuan. The aim is simple: roll as many desired combinations as possible. Depending on your luck (or skill), you could either settle for the minor prizes or go home with the zhuangyuan (grand prize).

The interesting part: although most Chinese families celebrate the festival, some do not play the Mooncake Game. Hong Kong, Taiwan, and most parts in China are not familiar with it. The game is said to have originated in Xiamen. Since most of the Chinese residing in the Philippines are immigrants from Fujian province, they brought this tradition with them.

Good for us! 中秋節快樂!

Print ed: 10/11

 

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