What is China's Mid-Autumn Festival and How Is It Celebrated?

The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most important holidays in China and is recognized and celebrated by ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese around the world. The festival is held on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunisolar calendar (the night of the full moon between early September and October).

chinese lanters

Mid-Autumn Festival is a day for friends and family to gather together, offer thanks to the fall harvest, and pray for longevity and good fortune.

This holiday falls on the day of a full moon which makes the rooftops a great place to spend your evening. Storytelling, an essential part of Chinese culture as well as any Chinese holiday, gives rise to many great tales of old surrounding the Mid-Autumn Festival. An abbreviated version of the Mid-Autumn Festival fable goes as follows.

The Story of the Mid-Autumn Festival

Long long ago, the world was plagued by nine suns. A too hot and too dry earth was not suitable for the people.

There existed a brave warrior who was extremely skilled with a bow and arrow. He was summoned by a king and was given a magical bow. With this bow he was able to shoot eight of the nines suns out of the sky, saving the world and all it’s people. As a reward, the king gave the brave warrior a special elixir that, after drinking, would send him up to the heavens for all of eternity. A beautiful ending indeed, but this brave warrior’s heart belonged to one of the fairest women in all the land.

mid-autumn festival warrior

He chose to stay on earth with his lover, however still graciously accepting the elixir as a token of gratitude. It was not until, in a stroke of pure evil did the warriors arch nemesis attempt to steal the elixir and drink it for himself.

As the warrior was not at home, his lover was left to protect it from this wretched evil. Seeing no other choice, his lover drank the potion herself and began to float away up to the heavens. The brave warrior smote down his enemy swiftly, but was too late to grab hold of his lover as she slowly levitated to the moon.

She has been on the moon ever since and will be there until the end of time. It is with this sadness that Chinese people look at the moon on the Mid-Autumn Festival remembering all their loved ones that they are separated from throughout the year.

Mid-Autumn Festival Key Facts


The holiday originated more than 3,000 years ago during the Shang Dynasty but only gained widespread popularity 1,500 years later when emperors in the Tang Dynasty began holding formal celebrations in their palaces.


The English term “Mid-Autumn” directly translates from the Chinese holiday name 中秋节 (zhōng qiū jié) which literally means “middle autumn festival”.

Moon Worship

There are many adaptations of the ancient fable revolving around the festival, although all have central themes of immortality, elixirs of life, and the moon. One of the most popular versions tells the tale of a skilled archer that saved the world. After being rewarded with an elixir of immortality by the gods, he refused to drink it, instead choosing to remain with his beloved Chang’e. Trying to keep the elixir away from those who would abuse it, Chang’e was forced to take the potion herself and floated to the heavens; to this day, she resides on the moon.

mid-autumn festival moon phases


The most famous food during the Mid-Autumn Festival is the mooncake. The moon cake is a round shaped cake roughly the size of a hockey puck. They differ in size, flavor and style depending on what part of China you are in. There are almost too many flavors of moon cakes to try during the short lived festival. Ranging from salty and savory meat filled moon cakes, to sweet nut and fruit filled moon cakes, you are bound to find a flavor that suits your pallet.

mid-autumn festival mooncakes

Modern Celebration

The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated with many cultural and regional variations. Generally, it is a day for friends and family to gather, eat mooncakes, and enjoy the full moon. Many groups of ethnic Chinese also light different types of lanterns, symbols of fertility, to decorate and serve as a guide for spirits in the afterlife.

Other Names

Moon Festival, Harvest Moon Festival, Mooncake Festival, Lantern Festival, Reunion Festival, and Zhongqiujie

mid-autumn festival lanterns

CLI Celebrates Mid-Autumn Festival!

For this year's 中秋节 (zhōngqiū jié), the Chinese Language Institute (CLI) hosted a Mid-Autumn Festival party on the rooftop of the school, overlooking the beautiful scenery of Guilin. CLI’s students and teachers, as well as Chinese students from the local university, all quite far from their homes on this special occasion, were able to share a wonderful, fun-packed evening full of games, food and some good old fashion fun.

The evening started out with an informative presentation given by one of CLI’s interns, Richard. He taught everyone about the history of the holiday as well as the traditions that go along with it. After some trivia games to see how well everyone paid attention, the staff and students were well acquainted and ready to start the celebration.

After having their fill of fresh fruit, moon cakes, Chinese tea and other tasty treats, a grand game of charades ensued. Hurdling language barriers and cultural differences, everyone was able to enjoy the game, learn some Chinese idioms as well as teach their new friends some English, and know a bit more about each other’s acting skills and personalities.

Some students saw traditional Chinese lanterns being lit off in the distance, soaring slowly upward, disappearing into the night sky. Students learned that the lanterns are used to write down your wishes and prayers, then send them to the heavens to be answered. Although, no lanterns were lit by CLI students, it added a dazzling twist to the mountainous backdrop under the moonlit sky.

Although one of many holidays in China, the Mid-Autumn Festival is one not to miss.

中秋节快乐! Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

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