Mid-Autumn Festival is around the corner! What does it mean to overseas Chinese? As a Chinese living in Germany, homesickness is definitely somewhat there, as it always is before the arrival of traditional Chinese Festivals such as Spring Festival, Mid-autumn Festival, Tomb Sweeping Festival and Dragon Boat Festival, etc. That’s because family reunions are always the most important way of celebrating these festivals. With Mid-autumn Festival / Moon Festival around the corner, my thoughts for home, family, and friends back in China drive me to write the article below about the festival. I will also offer some pairing tips of Moon Cake and tea (since tea and my tea shop are forever one of the most important parts of my life).
Origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival
The Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节; Zhongqiu Jie) is the second-largest festival in China after the Lunar New Year Festival (Spring Festival / Chinese New Year), and is so named because it is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month in the middle of autumn. It is also known as the Moon Festival because the ancient Chinese worship the moon and admire the full moon when it is brightest during the year.
In the past, on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, when the moon rose, a table was set up outside with Moon Cakes and various autumn fruits. After the lunar rituals, family members sat around the table to eat and talk while watching the full moon and making a wish. Nowadays, however, lunar rituals are not popular with young people. It seems the custom of eating Moon Cakes while watching the moon with family members is more preserved and practiced with the overseas Chinese who feel more deeply for “Though thousand miles apart, we share the same Moon” (千里共长娟). The Mid-Autumn Festival is also a “Reunion Festival” (团圆节; Tuanyuan Jie) because the bright and clear round moon in autumn is a symbol of unity and harmony. For celebrating During the Mid-Autumn Festival, family members try their best to go back home and get together with their parents, no matter how far from home.
About Moon Cake
Have you ever tasted Moon Cake? Moon Cake is an indispensable dessert for the Chinese during the Mid-Autumn Festival every year. Thus, the Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as Moon Cake Festival (月饼节; Yuebing Jie).
Moon Cake (月饼; Yuebing) is a moon-shaped round pastry filled with various ingredients, like lotus seed paste, plum blossoms, nuts, dates, red beans, roses, black sesame seeds, egg yolks, etc. Moon Cake comes in a bigger variety of flavors nowadays, from a very traditional way to snow skin with fillings ranging from chocolate to champagne truffles. If you are a little adventurous, try a Durian Moon Cake when you get a chance.
How do the Chinese celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival?
Traditionally, the whole family sits around the round Moon Cake, sharing and eating it together. Moon Cakes are also given to acquaintances such as relatives, friends, colleagues and teachers as holiday gifts. The full moon symbolizes reunion. Thus, during the Mid-Autumn Festival, families reunite from afar, sharing Moon Cakes and tea time, as well as having a big family feast, ideally in the open air under the full moon. Sometimes people burn special papers to pray to the moon for family reunion, happiness and success. However, the custom of praying to the moon varies from region to region and is not necessarily practiced. Making and hanging lanterns is also a custom of the Mid-Autumn Festival in China, especially in the southern regions. Lanterns made of pumpkins, grapefruits, oranges or various handicraft papers are very popular with children. Children also compete to see who can hang the lantern higher by hanging it on a pole.
Though young generations practice the traditional celebrations less and less often, eating Moon Cake while watching the moon keeps being a must-do during this festival. As the Mid-Autumn Festival approaches, countless Moon Cakes and related gifts like tea are sold in shopping malls and supermarkets.
Pairing Tea with Moon Cakes
So, which teas go well with Moon Cakes? For sweet desserts containing rich fat and oils with red bean paste, nuts and dried fruits like the Moon Cake, we recommend traditionally processed Oolong (charcoal-baked Oolong). Good examples are Yancha, Dancong Oolong, White Orchid Oolong, Charcoal-baked Tie Guan Yin as well as Osmanthus Tea. The charcoal-baked teas add to the bakery and roasty aroma as well as the creaminess, at the same time the bitterness and astringency cleanse and balance the fattiness and sweetness. For example, Rougui Wuyi Yancha’s minerality with its spicy and sweet aftertaste harmonize with the rich and sweet taste of the Moon Cake, enhancing rather than disturbingly contrasting each other in tastes and mouthfeel. But at the same time, bitter and astringent nutrients like catechin and polyphenols in tea leaves balance out the sugar and fat from the Moon Cakes.
Osmanthus Tea is a great choice to pair with Moon Cakes, too. Since the middle of the autumn is the time when Osmanthus flowers are in full bloom and many Chinese cities are filled with its sweet aroma, the Chinese enjoy drinking Osmanthus tea at this time of year. In China, Osmanthus tea (桂花茶; Guihuacha) has been popular for hundreds of years. In fact, Osmanthus is one of the symbols of Mid-Autumn Festival. It smells pleasantly sweet like champagne, vanilla with a touch of tropical fruits such as mango. It is drunk alone or mixed with green tea, oolong tea as well as black tea to enhance the aroma, flavor and sometimes also health benefits. The Chinese believe that Osmanthus with Keemun tea is particularly effective against a stressed stomach and helps to relax. The tea warms up the stomach and leads to quick relief from stress. Having a cup of Osmanthus Longjing (adding osmanthus flowers to Longjing green tea) with Moon Cake during the Mid-Autumn Festival is quite usual in my home province, Zhejiang.
Apropos, did you know that there are also autumn holidays in the Western culture comparable to the Mid-Autumn Festival in China? Thanksgiving, a kind of the American version of Mid-Autumn Festival, begins on the last Thursday in November, and in France there is the Catholic holiday "All Saints’ Day" as an autumn holiday. The Russian "St. Demetrius Saturday" is also similar to the Mid-Autumn Festival. On the Saturday before November 8th, close relatives gather in Russia to share food made from fresh grain and fresh fruit. How nice to find out that no matter where we are from, we all celebrate this season somehow.
If you enjoyed reading this post and got to know more about the meaning and purpose of our traditional Mid-Autumn Festival, how about taking time to have a cup of tea while looking at the full moon beaming through your window and making a small wish? For the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival held from 19th to 21st September, I wish you all the best and a quality time with your loved ones. 中秋节快!