Moon Cake

Moon Cake

Moon Cake


Once a year, full moon falls on Aug. 15th of the Chinese Lunar calendar, which can be any day between mid Sep. to early Oct. on the Georgina calendar; and this fifteenth day of eighth lunar month is Mid Autumn Festival, also known as Moon Festival, second most celebrated of the four major traditional holidays in China: Spring Festival or Chinese New Year (春节 in Chinese), Mid Autumn Festival (中秋节 in Chinese), Dragon Boat Festival (端午节 in Chinese) and Tomb Sweeping Festival (清明节 in Chinese).

Being born into the tradition, I had taken it for granted till recently. After I was stumped by my son’s question about its origin, I made some effort to learn more about it. My research yielded fascinating result. I knew it is an old tradition but I had no idea it is actually so ancient. While some historical texts show that it became a holiday in the Tang Dynasty(618-907 AD), an earlier documented mention of Mid Autumn is found in the treasured ancient classic Zhou Li (周礼 in Chinese), a Confucian Sutra from Western Zhou Dynasty(1046 BC to;771 BC). In the mean time, various legends link it to the time of Jade Emperor. Obviously I won’t be able to separate myth from reality, unless any evidence is unearthed, but I like the idea that it could possibly be from aeon ago. After all, some legends were derived from stretching imaginable reality. Above all, the historical texts and legends share one thing in common, a belief that the moon was the most brilliant and fullest on 15th of the eighth lunar month, hence most worshiped.

Of the many legends and varied versions of each, I remember best the one about Chang’e (嫦娥 in Chinese), the beautiful young wife of the heroic archer Hou Yi (后彝 in Chinese), who accidentally took her husband’s elixir and was whisked away to the crystal palace on the moon where she has lived since and appeared once a year on 15th of the eighth lunar month, and the Jade Rabbit who was sent to accompany her. When we were little, one of the festival activities for me and my sister was moon gazing to find Chang’e and her Jade Rabbit.

As depicted by the classic literature from those days, the Mid Autumn Festival was most festive in Tang (618-907 AD) and Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD); it was a carnival of drinking, feasting, cruising rivers, town fair at night adorned by red lanterns and people vying for seats at restaurants with best view of the moon. Over the millennium, customs of the festival has changed. Celebration of the festival is not as lavish and varies from region to region in terms of activities and food. Remaining at the heart of the festival, however, are moon cakes and the symbolism of family reunion.

This year, Mid Autumn Festival fell on Sep. 14. I called my parents and sister in Guangzhou, China the day before the festival. It was a long weekend there since the festival had become a national holiday in 2007. My sister had made a dinner reservation for the holiday, as it is common these days for families to eat out on holidays instead of laboring all day for the dinner feast like my mom used to do two decades ago. They were going to Luming Restaurant (鹿鸣酒家 in Chinese), the one in a park at the bottom of Baiyun Mountain, that I had been to before. I wished I could be there with them. But it was not to be and I sent my holiday wishes. At the end, I asked if they were going to have Taro roots and pomelos as we used to do. They answered: “Maybe.”

Moon Cake with Two Egg Yolks

Moon Cake with Two Egg Yolks

On the evening of the Mid Autumn Festival, a Sunday evening, I served my family moon cakes of white lotus paste and salty egg yolks. There are moon cakes using other kinds of fillings: green bean and red bean paste, nuts and Chinese sausages, etc. My favorite kind is the white lotus paste with salty egg yolk(s). The taste for salty egg yolk might not be automatic for everyone. My husband likes it, but our son picks out the egg yolk, he loves the rest but not the yolk. I cut each cake into 8 wedges; we ate them with warm tea. It was superb.

Brilliant Moon Shine

Brilliant Moon Shine


The Moon Festival was not complete without moon gazing.
Where is the moon?
I went out to the deck, and there, shining above the glistening lake, it was divine!

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4 Responses

  1. Yvonne,
    You have a wonderful blog. I am very impressed with your writing here. I have not gone through all of your article yet, but just want to leave you a note and let you know that this is great!

  2. Thank you Yijun!
    Do you have anything to share about the custom of the Festival from your region?
    Hope to ‘see’ you often here.

  3. Actually we got the share of Yvonne’s moon cakes, they are GOOOOOOOD!!

    Thanks so much. Try and you will love them!

  4. Yay, long live great traditions!

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