Chinese Culture

What Is the Origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival?

What Is the Origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival?

The Mid-Autumn Festival originated in China, stemming from the ancient Chinese people’s reverence for celestial phenomena. In the ancient agricultural society, people noticed the close correlation between the moon, seasonal changes, and agricultural production. In addition, they believed in the existence of the “Moon Goddess.” As the moon reached its fullest and brightest point on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month each year, people held rituals and worshipped the “Moon Goddess.” Over time, these activities evolved into popular customs, and as a result giving rise to an important festival.

Because the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month falls in the middle of the autumn season, this festival is known as the “Mid-Autumn Festival.” In addition, since it is celebrated in August, some people also refer to it as the “August Festival.”

When Did the Mid-Autumn Festival Gain Popularity?

During the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD), the Mid-Autumn Festival gained widespread popularity, eventually becoming an officially recognized nationwide festival during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). It was during this era that numerous literary works associated with the customs of the Mid-Autumn Festival emerged. Additionally, various legends related to the festival began to circulate among the people. One of the most well-known and widely recognized legends telling the origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival is the tale of “Chang’e Flying to the Moon.”

The Legend Behind the Origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival

According to the legend, in ancient times, the sky was inhabited by ten suns that were meant to take turns appearing in the sky. However, one day, all ten suns simultaneously emerged, casting an unbearable heat upon the world and causing great suffering for humanity.

A hero named Hou Yi emerged during this crisis. He possessed extraordinary strength and exceptional archery skills. He ascended a high mountain, exerting all his strength, and in one breath, he shot down nine of the suns with his bow and arrows.

Hou Yi’s courageous act earned him immense gratitude and admiration from the people. Many sought him as a mentor to learn archery and other martial skills. There was also a celestial being who held a deep affection for Hou Yi. She gifted him a pill that would grant him immortality, ascend to the heavens, and become a celestial being. However, Hou Yi did not consume the pill, as he couldn’t bear the thought of leaving his beloved wife behind.

Hou Yi’s wife, Chang’e, was a beautiful and kind-hearted woman who often helped the villagers. She was greatly loved by all. Hou Yi and Chang’e deeply loved each other. Hou Yi didn’t want to become a celestial being and leave Chang’e alone. So, he asked Chang’e to hide the pill in a box.

Hou Yi had a disciple named Feng Meng, who somehow learned about the existence of the pill and became determined to obtain it for himself.

On the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, while Hou Yi was away from home, Feng Meng seized the opportunity and broke into their house, wielded his sword, and demanded Chang’e hand over the pill. Chang’e thought to herself, “If such a wicked person were to consume the pill and become immortal, wouldn’t it bring harm to more people?” And so, she firmly refused to surrender the pill.

Feng Meng, left with no choice, began searching everywhere himself. Upon seeing that Feng Meng was about to find the pill, Chang’e, in a moment of desperation, took out the pill and swallowed it. Immediately after consuming the pill, Chang’e began to ascend, flying higher and higher until she reached the moon.

Upon returning home, Hou Yi found his house in disarray, and Chang’e was nowhere to be found. Filled with anguish, he rushed outside and searched for Chang’e, but she was nowhere to be seen. It was then that he looked up and saw the bright moon, where Chang’e was gazing lovingly back at him. Hou Yi finally understood that Chang’e had consumed the pill, and ascended to the heavens as a celestial being, forever beyond his reach.

Hou Yi and the villagers deeply missed Chang’e. Each year, on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, they would gather together, set up Chang’e’s favorite foods in the courtyard, and gaze at the moon while missing her deeply.

Over time, the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month became a festival where families reunite and gaze at the moon together.

The Origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival Video