By Darren Lim
It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a ... big fat moon. During the next few weeks, all eyes will be looking toward the approaching Mid-Autumn Festival. Whether you call it the moon festival, the lantern festival, or the (tasty) mooncake festival, the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar, which marks the autumnal equinox of the solar calendar, is quite a date. Not only does it concern the weather, the food, and nature, the mythical story behind it appeals to lovers everywhere. And you may think that you've heard it all before: how Houyi shot down nine suns and how Chang'e flew to the moon. But here are four things you've probably never heard about the beloved festival:
1. Mid-Autumn isn't always during the full moon. Contrary to popular belief, the moon is not necessarily the most circular, the brightest, or the biggest during the Mid-Autumn festival. The Chinese calendar doesn't coincide perfectly with the revolution of the moon, so the 15th is not guaranteed to be a full-moon night—but the full moon will occur within two days of the festival. And while moonlight is indeed more vivid in autumn's clearer skies (you know, those ones not in Chengdu), the moon is actually brightest around the Winter Solstice.
As for size, the moon's orbit around the earth is elliptical, and our distance from it varies. Therefore, the 15th of the eighth lunar month doesn't necessarily mean that the moon is closest to earth. But who cares? True moon gazers prefer to observe a quarter moon, when they can view the mountains, plains, and gorges on the moon with telescopes. During a full moon, the sun's intense illumination erases all shadows of landforms.
2. In Taiwan, the Mid-Autumn Festival is national BBQ day. Despite the government's efforts to crack down on outdoor grilling for the sake of the environment, barbequing persists among Taiwanese families. In the mid-1980s, a major barbeque-sauce company launched an ad with the slogan "Mid-Autumn Night is BBQ Night". Supposedly, it all started with a TV commercial and since then, Mid-Autumn has become the peak season for sales of BBQ products in Taiwan.
3. It's also pomelo time! The pomelo is a beloved fruit of the Mid-Autumn Festival, and the Chinese are loath to waste any part of it. After munching the pomelo's sweet and juicy flesh, the Chinese don't dispose of the skin; instead, they put the pomelo rinds on their heads. In Mandarin, pomelos are called 柚子 (you zi), a homophone for words that mean "prayer for a son." Therefore, eating pomelos and putting their rinds on the head signify a prayer for the youth in the family. In addition, the Chinese believe that by placing pomelo rinds on their heads, the moon goddess Chang'e will see them and respond to their prayers when she looks down from the moon. Or maybe they're just trying to rid themselves of dandruff.
4. Hit the hills for the best views. According to the Chengdu Daily, the best venue for moongazing isn't home or the astronomical observatory; it's Mount Emei. After all, it is held that Mount Emei's moon is synonymous with "divine moon." Each a spectacular sight on its own, Mount Emei's top sites for moongazing include the Fuhu (Crouching Tiger) Temple, the Qingyin (Pure Sound) Pavilion, the Wannian (Ten Thousand Years) Temple, and the Jiulao Cave. But the Xixiang (Wash Elephant) Pool, with its breathtaking scenery and clear, stunning view of the moon, is regarded as the best of all.
Wherever you end up moongazing, eating pomelos, or barbequing, have a happy Mid-Autumn Festival! Stay tuned for our two-part series, Mid-Autumn@Home, where we'll show you everything you need for a DIY Mid-Autumn Festival this year.
Image: China News