Marking the end of the autumn harvest, the Mid-Autumn Festival was traditionally a time to give thanks to the gods. It is also a time of year that the moon is at its brightest, which is why lunar legends have always been attached to the celebration. Notably, the story of Chang E, the wife of a merciless king who downed the elixir of immortality he had intended to drink, to save her people from his tyrannical rule.
Nowadays, moon-viewing parties are a popular way to enjoy the occasion, as family and friends sit in gardens lit by the soft glow of paper lanterns and nibble on mooncakes. Children love this festival because they get to tote lanterns. The traditional opt for those lighted by wax candles—elegant paper versions or more elaborate multi-hued cellophane and wire structures shaped into everything from cars to cartoon characters.
Without a doubt, mooncakes are the main highlight of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Legend has it that they helped to free Yuan China from Mongol rule, after rebels organised an uprising by passing messages hidden in these seasonal sweets. Today, you’ll find them in many varieties, from the traditional with lotus seed paste and egg yolk, to snow-skin versions filled with everything from chocolate to champagne truffle. They are best enjoyed with a strong, palate-cleansing cup of Chinese tea.