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Better known by its more imaginative moniker of the Mooncake Festival, for millions of Chinese across Asia the Mid-Autumn Festival is a big deal, second only to Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations.
Throughout the continent, households celebrate in style in a variety of ways, with the releasing of sky lanterns, dragon dancing and the age old tradition of eating mountains of moon cakes. These ubiquitous bite-sized chunks of pastry are filled with everything from red bean paste, lotus seeds, almonds, egg yolk, minced meat, candied fruits or chocolate.
There are literally hundreds of varieties found throughout the region and in cosmopolitan areas such as Hong Kong and Shanghai, well-to-do folk can even munch on moon cakes of black truffle, caviar and foie gras.
Throughout continental Asia, Mid-Autumn Festival is a time for families to reunite and spend time together. Celebrations kick off with a special meal at home, akin to a western Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner before everyone steps out together, often in traditional dress, to enjoy local festivities such as dancing, music and bright lantern displays. Each nation and region has its own peculiar customs for moon worship with many quaint customs still going strong.
Zhongqiu: the Chinese mainland's Mid-Autumn Festival
In Chinese mainland the strong scent of incense wafts through the air and twinkling lanterns can be seen for miles around. Unsurprisingly it is in the rural heartland where the most colorful traditions still hold true.
In parts of Southern China the full moon is time for a little romance. Masquerades are held at Festival time to pair up single guys and girls from neighboring villages with the quaint yet symbolic dropping of a handkerchief.
One of the most spectacular aspects of Mid-Autumn Festival is the building of huge bamboo and stone towers, often rising over 50 feet high, which are then set ablaze after dark in order to ensure a good harvest.
Mid-Autumn celebrations in Hong Kong
Hong Kong is arguably the best place of all to be for the Festival. The teeming city goes mad for moon cakes and the famous city skyline is even more dramatic among thousands of shimmering lanterns and the glow of the full moon.
Seemingly every household in the city takes the kids up to Victoria Peak to see the cityscape and harbor view in all its glory. From here you can see a flotilla of boats ferrying couples around the harbor on romantic moonlight cruises. Throughout Kowloon there are special street markets, extravagant lantern processions (including the world's largest structure made entirely of lanterns) and the famous fire dragon dances shows.
Mid-Autumn Festival in Singapore
Although not a designated public holiday in Singapore, the city celebrates in typically over-the-top fashion which is as ever, well stage-managed.
All the action takes place in Chinatown with an official opening ceremony and light up of shimmering lanterns. There are numerous troupes of lion dancers all jostling for position to the sound of deafening firecrackers and cheesy Mandarin pop songs.
This being Singapore, there is a huge moon-inspired street bazaar with the usual mix of tacky Chinese souvenirs and fabulous street food.
Chuseok in South Korea
Falling on the same date as the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, Chuseok is a big deal; hands down the most celebrated holiday on Korea's calendar. For outsiders, it's sometimes difficult to grasp the significance of this three-day event, as it is extremely family-oriented. If you have an in with a kind Korean family, this would be a great opportunity for an in depth look at Confucianism in action.
Mooncake Festival in Taiwan
Due in part to the creeping westernization of Taiwan society, there is a modern trend of spending Mid-Autumn Festival with a barbecue and a few beers under the light of the full moon. It is usually a small family affair but some towns and villages do organize large scale versions where the whole community gets together under twinkling lanterns to eat mountains of sizzling meat and moon cakes.
Tết Trung Thu – Mid-Autumn Festival in Vietnam
The Vietnamese version of Mid-Autumn Festival has taken on a life of its own, including its very own unique and bizarre legend. It recounts the story of a woman who accidentally urinated on a sacred banyan tree and for her sins was transported to the moon to be stranded there for eternity. During festivities in Vietnam, lion dances are the main attraction with small dance troupes performing on street corners or going from house to house collecting 'good luck' money in exchange for a private show.
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