Full moon fun: How Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated in other parts of Asia

A woman (left) buying a star-shaped lantern at a local Mid-Autumn festival toy market in Hanoi.
A woman (left) buying a star-shaped lantern at a local Mid-Autumn festival toy market in Hanoi.PHOTO: AFP

This story was first published on Sept 15, 2016, and updated on Sept 27, 2017.

Next Wednesday (Oct 4) marks the Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. The festival celebrates the harvest and the fullest moon of the year.

In Singapore, the Mid-Autumn Festival is largely associated with Chinese cultural practices.

The festival is marked by activities including eating mooncakes and pomelos, carrying lanterns, and exchanging riddles.

The moon is also a symbol of unity for loved ones, since everyone sees the same moon in the sky despite the distance between them.

 

In Chinese mythology, the Mid-Autumn Festival commemorates the goddess Chang'E, who lives in exile on the moon with a jade rabbit as her companion.

On Monday (Sept 25), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote on the occasion of the festival on his Facebook page: "Hope you'll find the time to gather with friends, families and neighbours to celebrate the occasion together with lanterns, tea, and of course, (less sweet) mooncakes!"

However, the day is also celebrated in other parts of East and South-east Asia, as well as in diasporic communities throughout the world.

We take a look at some ways the Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated.

1. Vietnam


Customers carrying a lion head, used in traditional lion dances, at a Mid-Autumn festival toy market in Hanoi. PHOTO: AFP


Vendors sitting next to their stands of toys and lanterns at a local Mid-Autumn festival toy market in Hanoi. PHOTO: AFP


A vendor sitting next to her stand of masks at a local Mid-Autumn festival toy market in Hanoi. PHOTO: AFP

The Mid-Autumn Festival is known in Vietnamese as Tet Trung Thu - not to be confused with the lunar new year, which is Tet Nguyen Dan or Tet for short.

One traditional mooncake flavour is Thap Cam, or a mixture of 10 ingredients. The ingredients include Chinese sausage, sesame, pork or chicken floss, and salted egg.

The festival's association with children also means brisk sales of toys and lanterns.

Masks are worn to frighten away a tiger spirit that could devour the full moon and cause an eclipse.

2. Korea


A merchant puts octopuses on display at a fish wholesale market in Seoul, ahead of Chuseok, the Korean harvest holiday that falls on Sept 15 and is part of a five-day-long break. PHOTO: EPA


The Bujeon conventional market is crowded with shoppers ahead of the Chuseok harvest holiday in Busan, South Korea. PHOTO: EPA

Chuseok is a major festival in Korean culture, and in South Korea, the Mid-Autumn Festival warrants a three-day public holiday.

The long break allows Koreans to travel to their hometowns to visit loved ones and remember dead ancestors. It is traditional to visit and clean ancestral graves.

Ancestors are honoured with offerings on tables laden with food. Special dishes for the festival include sweet glutinous rice cakes in the shape of a half-moon, as well as fried omelette pancakes called jeon.

Celebrations include women's folk dances as well as traditional wrestling matches.

3. Hong Kong


Members of the fire dragon dance team arranging joss sticks onto the 'dragon' during the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance in Hong Kong. PHOTO: AFP


People playing drums before the start of the 'dragon' dance at the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance Festival in Hong Kong. PHOTO: AFP

Hong Kongers have a unique way of celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival in the community of Tai Hang, which was once a rural Hakka fishing village.

 

In 1880, the villagers suffered a run of bad luck when their livelihoods were threatened by a typhoon and livestock deaths. To reverse their fortunes, they adopted the practice of a three-day fire dance.

The Tai Hang fire dragon dance continues to this day. A dragon is built of rattan and straw, covered with burning incense sticks, and paraded through the streets. The procession is led by two young men wielding incense-covered pomelos.

This custom made it onto China's national list of intangible cultural heritage in 2011.

4. Taiwan

How about slabs of meat alongside your mooncakes and pomelos?

It is customary in Taiwan to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is a public holiday, with a slew of barbecues.


Singaporeans in Taipei, Taiwan, having a barbecue (BBQ) gathering to commemorate Mid-Autumn Festival in 2011. PHOTO: VINCENT HUM

The practice began in the 1980s after television advertisement campaigns by barbecue sauce companies. Barbecues were presented as a new take on the Mid-Autumn Festival's theme of family reunions.

Taiwanese people take their holiday barbecuing very seriously.

This year, the Taiwanese Food and Drug Administration tested 10 barbecue grills and two types of pork loin to assuage public fears that heavy metal toxins could be released by heating.

However, the government has been restricting barbecue venues because of environmental concerns.

Public barbecues are allowed in certain riverside parks and other designated areas.

5. Japan

In Japan, Tsukimi is the name of the festival that celebrates the harvest moon.

Families decorate their homes with susuki grass near a window that faces east, and make offerings of seasonal crops such as sweet potato.

Remember the Chinese legend about a jade rabbit who lives on the moon? In Japanese folklore, this tale is given a twist - the rabbits on the moon also make rice cakes, which are a traditional food for this festival.

Last year, McDonald's in Japan sold Tsukimi burgers in cardboard boxes with the silhouette of a rabbit. The burger is stuffed with a beef patty, ham, cheese and an egg - no rabbits.