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Mid-Autumn Festival

Updated: Jul 21, 2017 Print

The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. On this day the moon is believed to be at its fullest. There are four seasons in a year in China's lunar calendar and every season is divided into three stages: early, mid and late, hence the term Mid-Autumn.


The Mid-Autumn Festival originated in the early years of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and became popular in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). By the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1368-1911) dynasties, it had become a major festival in China as famous as the Spring Festival. Influenced by Chinese culture, overseas Chinese in some East Asian and Southeast Asian countries also celebrate it as a traditional festival.
China made the Mid-Autumn Festival a public holiday in 2008, and included it in the first batch of state-level intangible cultural heritage on May 20, 2006.

Festive activities

Enjoying the Full Moon

People in the Zhou Dynasty (c.11th century-256 BC) would hold a ritual on Mid-Autumn's Eve to greet the impending winter and worship the moon. They would arrange a large table for burning incense, on which they placed mooncakes, watermelons, apples, dates, plums, grapes and other offerings. On this occasion, mooncakes and watermelons are indispensable, and the watermelons should be cut into the shape of a lotus flower.

Worshipping the Moon

To worship the Moon Goddess, people would place mooncakes, watermelons, apples, dates, plums, grapes and other offerings on a large incense burning table, and place a statue of the Moon in proper order, after which the mistress of the house would cut the mooncakes symbolizing family reunion.

WatchingTidal Bore

Watching tidal bore is another great event during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Legend has it that the 18th day of the eighth lunar month is the birthday of the God of Tidal Bore. The period around the Mid-Autumn Festival is the best time for watching tidal bore throughout the year, and thus many people come to the Qiantang River to watch the tidal bore during this period of time.

Lighting Lanterns

On the eve of the Mid-Autumn Festival, people often light lanterns to enhance the moonlight. Today, the people of China's Hubei and Hunan provinces still have the custom of lighting lanterns on a makeshift tower they build with tiles, while people in China's Jiangnan region (regions south of the Yangtze River) often make boat lanterns to celebrate the festival.

Guessing Riddles

On the eve of the Mid-Autumn Festival when the moon is at its fullest, many public spaces are decorated with lanterns, and people often gather there to figure out answers to the riddles written on lanterns. This game is enjoyed by young people in particular, with many romantic stories spawning from it.

Playing Festive Lanterns

The custom of playing colorful lanterns during the Mid-Autumn Festival is quite popular in Southern China. For instance, all sorts of colorful lanterns are showed at the Foshan Autumn Fair, including sesame lanterns, eggshell lanterns, wood shavings lanterns, straw lanterns, fish scale lanterns, chaff lanterns, melon seed lanterns and lanterns in the shape of birds, beasts, flowers or trees.

Festive food


Admiring the full moon and enjoying mooncakes are essential Mid-Autumn customs for people nationwide. As the saying goes, on the 15th of the eighth lunar month the moon is full and bright, people enjoy mooncakes on this day for a fragrant and sweet delight. The Chinese associate mooncakes with the full moon, deeming the snack as a symbol of family reunion.

Osmanthus Wine

On Mid-Autumn's Eve, families across China enjoy a happy get-together by looking up at the bright moon, taking in the fragrance of osmanthus, drinking a cup of sweet osmanthus wine and recalling the ancient legend of an immortal named Wu Gang, who is said to live on the moon. Osmanthus is both ornamental and edible. 

River snails

River snails taste best around the Mid-Autumn Festival, as they are not pregnant during this period and thus their meat is especially fat and tasty. To this day, many households in Guangzhou still uphold the tradition of stir-frying and eating river snails to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. 


Pumpkin is a very popular food in recent years because it is high in vitamin A and is non-fattening despite its sweet taste. Many households in the Jiangnan region (regions in the south of the Yangtze River) of China maintain the custom of eating glutinous rice with old pumpkins on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month.


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