Chinese Culture: Moon Festival

The moon festival is a celebration of family and harvest that occurs on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. This article will share with you some of the legends that inspired the motifs used during the celebration.

Central to the moon festival is the goddess (loose translation of shen which is a higher being) Chang E. There are many legends revolving around this goddess however the most widely accepted is that she was married to the legendary archer Huo Yi who saved the world by using his prodigious strength to shoot down 9 of the 10 suns that were overheating the world.

Hou Yi was presented with the pills of immortality by another heavenly being but instead of consuming them and ascending to the heavens, he gifted them to his wife. Unfortunately this loving gesture was seen by his greedy apprentice who attempted to steal the immortal pills after Hou Yi left on a hunting trip. Chang E knew she could not over power him so she swallowed the pills herself and was pulled towards the heavens however her love for Hou Yi anchored her to the moon as it was the closest thing to the earth.

Upon finding out what happened to his wife, Hou Yi cried out to the heavens only to notice the moon reflected the image of his wife. He built an altar in her honour and gathered her favourite foods to pay his respects to her. This story spread around China and people begun to make offerings to the moon in hope of peace and prosperity.

The second story linked to the moon festival begins with three gods who descended to the earth and took the guise of frail old men. They came across a rabbit and asked it to help them find food. The little rabbit explained that he did not have the ability to hunt but he did not wish for them to starve so he threw himself into a fire so they could eat him. Touched by this benevolent act, the three gods revealed their true form and saved the rabbit, ascending him to the moon where he is said to gather herbs to assist Chang E in making more immortality pills. This story is believed to have come about as there are dark spots visible on the moon and the outline looks like a rabbit.

There are variations to these stories as things tend to change spreading village to village in the past however the essence of the story remains the same. The moon goddess Chang E and the moon rabbit are the main motifs for the moon festival which is celebrated all over the world. We hope you enjoyed reading their origin story and can now have a greater appreciation for the festival itself.

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