Many Asian friends are wishing each other a happy Mid-Autumn Festival today at EarthSky’s Facebook page. For us in the U.S. and elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere, tonight’s Harvest Moon is a sign that autumn is here. Meanwhile, in China, Taiwan, Vietnam and other parts of Asia, the focus is on the annual Mid-Autumn Festival, which by tradition also carries a strong connection to tonight’s moon. It’s sometimes called the Moon Festival in honor of this moon. It’s also called the Mooncake Festival for a traditional baked delicacy exchanged among family and friends. In 2012, the Mid-Autumn Festival takes place on September 30 for Asia and September 29 for those in the United States.
The date of the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar. One website called the eighth month the Chicken month. That timing places the festival in September or early October in the Gregorian calendar, close to the autumnal equinox, every year.
This year’s autumnal equinox fell on September 22. The Chinese lunar month begins on the day of a new moon. Since the first day of eighth lunar month was September 16, 2012, the Moon Festival falls on September 30 in Asia. But it falls on September 29 in the U.S. since – in U.S. time zones – the date of new moon fell on September 15 for us within U.S. shores.
The Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival features the beautiful idea that we all see the same moon phase on or around the same date. There are some small differences due to time zone, but, for the most part, the moon looks the same to all of us as night falls across the globe. The website Chinese-Fortune-Calendar.com said:
The Moon Festival is a holiday in China. It’s an occasion for family reunion. Chinese families like to get together to eat the mooncakes and watch the moon at the Moon Festival night. For the people are out of town or for Chinese are from China stay in USA, they miss their family or the lover at home and share the same moon at the night of the Moon Festival before the Internet gets popular.
Another tradition at the Mid-Autumn Festival is lanterns, both in the sky and on the ground. After a family dinner, Asian children are said to carry lanterns and stroll in parks or gardens. As part of the festival, lanterns are also released into the sky.
And, traditionally, matchmaking has been part of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Some parts of China are said to feature dances held to help young men and women find partners, although I don’t know how widely this tradition is practiced in today’s world. According to Wikipedia:
Young women are encouraged to throw their handkerchiefs to the crowd. The young man who catches and returns the handkerchief has a chance of romance.
Bottom line: On September 29 and 30, 2012, happy Harvest Moon to friends in the western hemisphere, and to our friends in Asia … happy Mid-Autumn Festival! This post has some photos and traditions of this Asian festival, which is also called the Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival.