History of Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival

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Two mooncakes

Mid-Autumn Festival Moon Cakes

The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most popular holidays in China. Much like America’s Thanksgiving, it is a holiday that is celebrated by the entire country where everyone travels to see family. However, moving nearly 700 million people in a condensed period of time is a huge undertaking. To help you put this in perspective, AAA estimated 49 million Americans traveled for Thanksgiving in 2016. 17 times more people travel in China during the Mid-Autumn Festival than in the United States for Thanksgiving. China’s mass transit systems are put to the ultimate test moving this many people round trip over the span of 10 days.

Mid-Autumn Festival History

The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival has been celebrated since the Zhou Dynasty (1045-221 BCE). It started as a celebration of the moon. The Emperor’s believed that by giving gifts to the moon after the fall harvest would help guarantee a good harvest the following year. These offering where usually placed on an alter outside for the Moon to see and consisted of various foods and drinks, like tea. The practice of celebrating the moon spread from just the Emperor through the upper class and into the masses during the Tong Dynasty (618-907 CE). It wasn’t until the Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE) that a formal festival was established and celebrated by the entire country. It is to occur on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Lunar Calendar corresponding with a full moon, which means it can occur anywhere between mid-August till early October.

Culinary Traditions of the Mid-Autumn Festival

The big food item during the Mid-Autumn Festival is the moon cake. This tradition began during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 CE) as these dense cakes served as a means of transmitting messages concerning the rebellion against the Mongolian Emperors. The moon cake is generally a round pastry with a thin crisp skin that is filled with sweet lotus seed and duck yolk paste. The sweet filling now comes in many flavors, including Green Tea or Matcha paste filling. There are also now savory moon cakes filled with various meats and nuts.

Moon Cake with Filling

Moon cakes feature a variety of fillings including green tea or matcha paste filling.

So what do you drink with your moon cake? Tea of course. Puerh is resounding favorite as the moon cakes are often eaten in the evening after the family celebrations. However, the timing works with the flavors as the earthiness of the Puerh counters the sweetnees of the moon cakes. As with all things tea, this is personal preference and can vary by family. Oolongs like Ti Kuan Yin are another popular choice to pair with this treat.

Moon cakes can be found in Asian markets here in the US. So if you are curious, go find some and enjoy them with your favorite Puerh or Oolong.

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