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Malaysian Chinese Traditional Festival


中秋节 Mid-Autumn Festival (Mooncake Festival)

By Wong Tuck Cheong


The Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节 zhong qiu jie), the second grandest festival in China after the Chinese New Year, is so named because it is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, which is always in the middle of the autumn season in China. It is also popularly referred to simply as “Fifteenth of the Eighth Month” (bayue shiwu).

It is also celebrated in other Asian countries like Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

The day is also known as the Moon Festival, as at this time of the year the moon is believed to be at its fullest and brightest. Families will reunite for a sumptuous dinner, worship the moon with offerings of mooncakes, apples, pears, peaches, grapes, pomegranates, watermelons and oranges; and later together enjoy mooncakes and the fruits.

However, the full moon does not always appear on the 15th night. According to the laws of astronomy, the new moon always appears on the first day of a lunar month, but it may appear in the early morning or in the evening of the first day. The time span from the new moon to the full moon is shorter than 15 days. So, if the new moon is in the early hours of the first day, then the full moon will appear on the 15th or even 14th day. If the new moon appears late, you will see the full moon on the 16th day, and sometimes even on the 17th day.


Traditionally, this day is also considered as a harvest festival since fruits, vegetables and grain would have been harvested by this time and food was abundant.


The Mid-Autumn Festival is a traditional festivity for both the Han and minority peoples, with a history of more than 2,000 years. In feudal times, Chinese emperors prayed to Heaven for a prosperous year. They chose the morning of the 15th day of the second lunar month to worship the sun and the evening of the 15th day of the eighth lunar month to hold a ceremony in praise of the moon.

The custom of worshipping the moon (called xi yue in Chinese) can be traced back to as far as the ancient Xia and Shang Dynasties (21st to 11th century BC). In the Zhou Dynasty (11th century to 256 BC), people held ceremonies to greet winter and worship the moon whenever the mid-Autumn set in. It became prevalent in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) for the people to enjoy and worship the full moon.

However, it became an established festival during the Song Dynasty (960-1279); during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), people sent round cakes to their relatives as gifts to express their best wishes for a family reunion, a practice that has endured to modern times. At night, they would look up at the full silver moon or wander by the lakeside to celebrate the festival.

It was during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911) that the Mid-Autumn Festival acquired the status being next in importance to the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year).

In China and among the diaspora, the Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival are the two important occasions in the year when family members return home to celebrate. The day became a public holiday in China in 2008.

The Moon Temple (built in 1530) was used by Emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties to pray to the Moon every year. The temple and its grounds are now a public leisure park located in western Beijing.

Playing with creations like lanterns stirs children’s imagination. They come in all shapes and sizes, replicating dragons, rabbits, butterflies or aeroplanes.

How the festival is celebrated


Food items offered in prayers to the moon

Mooncakes, mini yam (taro), water caltrop (língjiao, 菱角; leng kok in Cantonese; aka water chestnut*, shaped like a bull’s head, harvested from an aquatic plant); pomelo, one of the primary foods of the mid-autumn festival and considered to be a favourite of the Moon Goddess; and Chinese tea, a must have with sweet mooncakes.

Both the mini yam and water caltrop are only available during the Mid-Autumn season.

* Not to be confused with another type of water chestnut, the mati (馬蹄) which is also an aquatic plant raised for food since ancient times in China; in dim sum cuisine, water chestnut cake (mati gao) is a popular dish.

Eating Mooncakes

This is the most common and popular activity. Mooncakes are usually round in shape to symbolize the full moon and family reunion. Over the years, mooncakes have evolved into many varieties, in keeping with the demands of commercialism and taste. The commonest and basic ones use lotus root paste filling with or without salted duck egg yolk (single or double), or red bean paste.

Family reunion dinner and worshipping the full moon

As the moon on the festival night is believed to be at its fullest and brightest of the whole year, symbolizing family reunion, family members gather to appreciate it, including communion with those who are not at home, as everybody is united by gazing at the moon.

The moon is also worshipped as part of a 3,000-year tradition. Family members make wishes, simultaneously offering incense and bowing to the moon. Afterwards, the family members will partake of the mooncakes and the offerings.

Display and parade with lanterns

Since ancient times, lanterns have been used to light up the dark in China. Subsequently, they have acquired various social, cultural, religious and spiritual significations. Now, in addition to appreciating the moon and eating mooncakes, lighting lanterns has become a defining feature of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Lanterns have become handicrafts and ornamentals and people light Mid-Autumn Festival lanterns to symbolize family reunion and to pray for good fortune.


The custom was practised as early as the Song Dynasty (960-1279) when lanterns were floated in the river. In the family, children parade with lantern creations of different shapes (animals or objects) in the community or neighbourhood. Lanterns are also displayed in shopfronts and modern city shopping malls weeks before the 15th day to create a festive and celebratory atmosphere to encourage sale of goods, fashion and food. Cities like HK also feature large-scale lantern displays in streets and civic centres.

The use of lanterns also sustains and perpetuates an ancient traditional craft (lanterns having originated in the Western Han Dynasty 2,000 years ago).

In southern China and Hong Kong, the lantern activities are widespread, with grand displays and installations in public places and decorations on high buildings.

Kongming Lanterns 孔明灯

Kongming lanterns, or sky lanterns, made of paper and bamboo frames are popular in China.

Kongming lanterns were invented by Zhuge Liang (181-234 CE; aka Kongming) a statesman and military strategist during the Three Kingdoms period who during a conflict called for help by sending hot air balloons into the sky when his forces were surrounded by enemies.

During the festival, people in China often write blessings on the lanterns, praying for good luck and fortune as they float into the sky.


Guessing lantern riddles 猜灯谜

Solving lantern riddles has been a way of celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival for centuries in China and the diaspora. The words, phrases or poems that make up the riddles are written on lanterns or on slips of paper attached to the lanterns. For tough riddles, hints are provided, eg whether the answer is a thing, place, person or reasoning. Answers usually convey a positive message and good wishes to the player. The classic riddles are related to Chinese characters, idioms, historical figures, literary references, or names of cities and locations in China.

In China, lantern riddle activities are organized in communities and in schools and educational institutions.

In Singapore for 2021, this challenging and fun game is offered by the Jurong Lake Gardens committee in cooperation with the Riddle Association of Singapore, as part of festival celebrations from 17 September to 3 October.

Here are an examples of Chinese lantern riddles:

Riddle: ‘不负中秋夜明月’ [Clear moon lights up the Mid-Autumn Festival night]

Hint: 成语 [Idiom]

Answer: 胜利在望 [Victory is in sight]

[This riddle references the message conveyed by Zhu Yuanzhang through mooncakes to his followers that the uprising against the Mongols would start on the night of the full moon.]



kongming lantern

The Moon Temple (built in 1530) was used by Emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties to pray to the Moon every year. The temple and its grounds are now a public leisure park located in western Beijing.

中秋节 Mid-Autumn Festival (Mooncake Festival)

by Gai GuoLiang

《 Exploring Traditional Chinese Festivals in China》


The greate poet Su Dongpo’s Shui Diao Ge Tou 苏东坡 的 水调歌头 (Prelude to Water Melody) is considered as one of the best poem depicting the Mid-Autumn Festival. In one of his peoms on the Mid-Autumn Festival, he expressed how much he missed his beloved. The poet also gave his best wishes to everyone all over the world on the Mid-Autumn’s night.


Origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival

It is said that the Mid-Autumn Festival has been in existence for more then 2,000 years. According to the prologue to Moon Appreciation by Ouyang Zhan, the eighth lunar month comes in the middle of autumn. In ancient times, the three lunar months in each season are referred to as meng (first), zhong(second) and ji (third) in Chinese respectively. As the 15th day of the eight lunar month is in the middle of autumn, the date is called “Mid-Autumn” or “the second month of autumn”.

Emperor Ming Visits the Moon Palace

It was only in the Tang Dynasty that people began to pay more attention to the Mid-Autumn Festival. Before the Six Dynasties period, the Duanwu Festival was more popular. The change was probably inspired by an interesting story about Emperor Ming, which is recorded in many sources, such as The Unofficial History of the Tang Dynasty, Account of Encounters with Spirit Immortals, and Lost Records of the Liexian Zhuan. 

The legend goes that one night, on the 15th day of the eight lunar month, Luo Gongyuan, a Taoist priest, accompanied Emperor Ming to admire the moon from Imperial Garden. At one point, Emperor Ming wished he could fly to the Moon Palace to which Luo Gongyuan replied that it was not a problem. The latter threw his walking-stick into the sky, and it flew straight to the Moon Palace, leaving a wide and broad silvery bridge in its wake. Luo Gongyuan and Emperor Ming stepped onto the bridge, and began walking. After a while, they suddenly felt chilly, and also detected s fragrance. A beautiful palace appeared in front of them, and at the gate stood a large and tall osmanthus tree. Underneath, sat a white rabbit, pounding herbs, A big tablet on the gatehouse read, “The Cold Palace”, Luo Gongyuan told Emperor Ming that this was the Moon Palace. They walked in and found that there were beautiful and elegant jade buildings, all lavishly decorated. Exotic flowers and rare herbs were everywhere.
When they entered the palatial hall which had carved jade beams, they saw hundred of fairy maidens dressed in fine, white transparent jade gauze, dancing lightly on the crystal-like floor to the melodious music. Emperor Ming was proficient in music, and learned the tune by heart. The two men then walked around the whole palace. Finally, they took the staff and went back to the earth. Upon landing, Emperor Ming felt a tremor, and, walking up, he realized that he had just had a dream. He immediately wrote down the tune he had heard in the Moon Palace – this would be the “Music of Colorful Feathered Fashion Dance“, mentioned in A song of Unending Sorrow by Bai Juyi.

Some versions associated this tale with Zhang Guolao, one fo the eight immortals, while others with the exorcist monk, Ye Fashan.
Regardless, the plots were similar, and it is from these stories that we understand that the custom of enjoying the bright full moon during the Mid-Autumn’s night was already popular in the Tang Dynasty.