Moon myths, mooncakes and everything you should know about the Mid-Autumn Festival

Exhibition image, courtesy of the artist.

Exhibition image, courtesy of the artist.

Our Melbourne Fringe programs, the Moon Festival Stories and Crafts Workshop and contemporary art show 蝕-nibble, erosion, eclipseboth concern themes related to the moon. In case you missed it: the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival falls on the 15th of September this year.

It won’t be Autumn here in Australia, so you might be asking: what exactly is the ‘Mid-Autumn Festival’? Chances are, you’ll have come across it in some way or another, whether or not you have Chinese heritage. As one of the biggest cultural holidays for ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese, the festival is more than just a celebration of the full moon.

Held on the 15th day on the eighth month of both the Chinese Han Calendar and the Vietnamese calendar, it’s a tradition that goes back to as early as 16th century BCE. The festival’s early days were closely tied to harvest and religion. For the ancient Chinese, moon worship made up a significant part of the celebration, with offerings made to the moon deity Chang’e.

Chinese gods and goddesses are associated with many tales that rival that of Greek mythology, and Chang’e is the leading lady in the story behind Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. As the story goes, she lived during a time when there were ten suns. Her husband, the archer Houyi, shot down nine and was rewarded with an immortality elixir. But when his jealous apprentice broke into their home to steal the elixir, Chang’e had no choice but to down the drink herself. Though she ascended into the heavens, Chang’e wanted to be near her beloved husband, so she decided to reside on the moon. Meanwhile, an equally upset Houyi began displaying her favourite fruits and cakes as sacrifices.

Image by

Image by Shiuh Rong Yong

Today, many still make offerings and burn incense for Chang’e – but the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival has mostly become a celebration of family unity. Since roundness in Chinese culture signifies reunion, the gifting and sharing of the rounded mooncake, then, is perhaps the holiday’s most iconic ritual. These days, you’ll find the pastry, with its sweet, dense filling, sold in decorative gift packages, or even as updated ‘fusion’ versions.

Other traditions have stuck too: in Taiwan, outdoor barbeque parties have become a popular custom, while lantern-lighting at night is a popular activity in Hong Kong/Macau. Mainland Chinese participate in an array of activities, such as courtship dances and traditional games.

Want to join in on the festivities already? Well, the good news is, you and the whole family can celebrate this year’s Moon Festival with the Chinese Museum, by signing up to our interactive workshop that we’re hosting on September 19. Part storytelling session, part craft workshop, kids will get a chance to learn about the moon, paper-cutting and Chinese language and culture. The event is free with museum admission, but bookings are essential. Book before August 31 for only $7 per ticket – saving you $3 on adult prices and $1.50 on concession.