Mid-Autumn Festival History and Folklore

Mid-Autumn Festival History and Folklore

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This article is part of our Mid-Autumn Festival Family Guide. Sign up for our newsletter to receive our best activity, recipe and craft ideas before every Chinese holiday.

In ancient China, the Mid-Autumn Festival was first celebrated to give thanks for a bountiful harvest and the gifts of family. It’s one of the three big annual festivals designated for the living — the others are Chinese New Year and the Dragon Boat Festival.

The Story of Hou Yi and Chang’e

The Mid-Autumn Festival traces back to romantic folklore about the lovers Hou Yi and Chang’e. So the story goes, the skilled archer Hou Yi earned an elixir of immortality from the Jade Emperor for saving the planet, which was then suffering under the heat of 10 suns. Back home, Chang’e discovers the hidden elixir and drinks it herself, which causes her to weightlessly float to the moon. Upon landing, Chang’e coughed up the magical elixir, which then turned into a Jade Rabbit. To this day, it’s believed that Chang’e still lives on the moon, longing for her husband and trying to replicate the elixir of immortality. She’s reunited with Hou Yi, who became the God of the Sun, once a month on the 15th day when the full moon burns brightly from the force of their love.

The Mid-Autumn Festival and the Lunar Calendar

The Mid-Autumn Festival takes place on the evening of the full moon between September 8 and October 7. The holiday falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month and has been celebrated for more than 3,000 years back to the Shang Dynasty.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is arguably the second most important holiday on the Chinese calendar. It’s a harvest season festival with origins in moon worship that celebrates the turning of the seasons and life’s cycles between new and old.

The full moon is a symbol of unity and prosperity. The proximity of the fall equinox means that the moon is at its fullest and brightest, explaining why the holiday is also known simply as the Chinese Moon Festival.

When is the Mid-Autumn Festival?

The Mid-Autumn Festival takes place every year between September 8 and October 7 on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. Most Chinese workers will receive a single day off to celebrate the holiday.

Mid-Autumn Festival dates through 2026 are below.

2015September 27
2016September 15
2017October 4
2018September 24
2019September 13
2020October 1
2021September 21
2022September 10
2023September 29
2024September 17
2025October 6
2026September 25

Your turn! Do you have any other questions about Mid-Autumn Festival history and folklore? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

HT: Photo by Jason Lee.

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