Happy Moon Festival! I went to check out the moon cake display at my favorite Taiwanese bakery, AA Ozzy Bakery in Mesa, this afternoon after lunch. The moon cakes came in single packages as well as pretty pre-packaged boxes.
Interestingly, the origin of the Moon Festival is rooted in Chinese mythology and beliefs. It’s celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. Today, September 15th, happens to be the exact day of the Moon Festival. As its name suggests, legends (there are several) surrounding the Moon Festival are generally related to the moon. One of the most popular legends told widely during the festival days is that of Chang E flying to the moon. It is said that in ancient times, ten suns existed, and the extreme heat made people’s lives quite difficult. Hou Yi, a famous archer, shot down nine of the ten suns and became a hero due to this great feat. Upon hearing about this act and the hero who performed it, people came from far and wide to learn from him. Peng Meng was among these people. Later, Hou Yi married a beautiful and kind-hearted woman named Chang E and lived a happy life.
One day, Hou Yi came upon Wangmu, the queen of heaven, on the way to meet his old friend. Wangmu presented him with an elixir which, if taken, would cause him to ascend immediately to heaven and become a god. Instead of drinking the potion himself, however, Hou Yi took it home and presented it to Chang E to keep. Unfortunately, Peng Meng secretly saw Hou Yi give the potion to his wife and three days later, while Hou Yi was out hunting, Peng Meng rushed into the backyard and demanded that Chang E hand over the elixir. Knowing that she could not win, she took out the elixir and swallowed it immediately. The moment she drank it, she flew out of the window and up into the sky. Chang E’s great love for her husband drew her towards the Moon, which is the nearest place to the earth in heaven.
Hou Yi was so grieved after realizing what happened to his wife that he shouted Chang E’s name to the sky. He was amazed to see a figure which looked just like his wife appear in the Moon. He took the food liked by Chang E to an altar and offered it as a sacrifice for her. After hearing that Chang E became a goddess, folk people also offered sacrifices to Chang E to pray for peace and good luck. Since then, the custom of sacrificing to the moon has been spread among the folklore. It is said that Chang E looks the most beautiful against the full moon on Mid-Autumn Festival. According to legend, you can see her dancing and swaying shadow in the light of the moon.
Today, the Chinese celebrate the Mid-Autumn festival with dances, feasting, moon gazing and, of course, mooncakes. While baked goods are a common feature at most celebrations, mooncakes are inextricably linked with the Moon festival. Mooncakes are often filled with lotus seed paste, are roughly the size of a human palm, and are meant to be cut diagonally in quarters and passed around. This explains their rather steep price ($8.00 for mine!). In the middle of the mooncake is a salty yolk, representing the full moon. I’m not particularly fond of mooncakes; however, I do love many of the other baked goods. And they are really fun and pretty to look at!