Tomorrow is Zhong Qiu Jie . Zhong Qiu Jie is also known as Harvest Moon, Mid-Autumn Festival, Moon Festival and Moon Cake Festival and in Vietnamese Tet Trung Thu. It is a day of family reunions much like a Western Thanksgiving. Chinese people believe that on that day, the moon is the roundest and brightest signaling a time of completeness and abundance. During the Mid-Autumn Festival, children delight in parading multi-colored lanterns as families take to the streets to moon-gaze.

The festival, celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, has no fixed date in the Western calendar, but the day always coincides with a full moon.

Descriptions of the “Mid-Autumn” first appeared in “Rites of the Zhou”, a collection of ritual matters of the Western Zhou Dynasty some 3,000 years ago. It described the eighth lunar month, the second month of autumn, as “zhong qiu” (meaning mid autumn).

The Chinese began celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival in the early Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), a period of material abundance and cultural blossoming. The Chinese worshipped the moon by offering liquor, fruit and snacks outdoors, expressing thanks for bumper harvest and praying for the god of the moon to bring good luck.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is characterized by:

Mooncakes: A legend goes that mooncakes were first made in the 14th Century, when people exchanged pancakes that were stuck with slips of paper reading “Kill the Mongols on the 15th day of the eighth month”. It was said to be a secret message from rebel leader Zhu Yuanzhang calling on the Chinese to overthrow the Mongolian rulers of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368)

Lord Rabbit: Known as Tu’er Ye in Chinese, the Lord Rabbit is a traditional icon of the festival. It has a human body, but a rabbit’s ears and mouth.

Matchmaking: The Chinese believe the god of the moon is a highly efficient matchmaker. In some parts of China, masquerades are held on the Mid-Autumn Festival for young men and women to find partners. One by one, young women are encouraged to throw their handkerchiefs to the crowd. The young man who catches and returns the handkerchief has a chance of romance. It is also a romantic night for lovers, who sit holding hands on hilltops, riverbanks and park benches, captivated by the brightest moon of the year!

Lanterns and dragon dances: These are traditional activities during the holiday, but are popular mainly in south China, particularly in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong.

This day is celebrated as the end of the summer harvesting season by farmers. Traditionally, to admire the bright mid-autumn harvest moon, Chinese family members and friends will gather on this day and under the moon, they eat moon cakes and pomelos. Besides this, putting pomelo rinds on ones head, carrying brightly lit lanterns, burning incense in reverence to deities including Change are included in additional cultural or regional customs. To celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, barbecuing outdoors has become a widespread way.

Traditional foods for a Chinese Mid-Autumn feast are red for good luck. Lobster and salmon are particular favorites along with apples, pomegranates, roasted peanuts, pomelo, chestnuts, fatt koh (sponge cakes) and moon cakes.

When the moon is supposedly at its fullest and roundest position, Moon Festival parallels the autumnal equinox of the solar calendar. Moon-cake is the traditional food of this festival, available in many different varieties with yummy ingredients, and sold everywhere in traditional flavors like lotus and egg yolk or exotic varieties like durian, chocolate, coffee and ice-cream.

Over the weekend, I was at Boulevard Shopping Complex and saw a wide variety of moon cakes and lanterns for sale. I could not resist taking some photos of the moon cakes and lanterns.

Kids love these lanterns

A giant fish lantern costing over RM100 (USD 30)

A wide variety of moon cakes for sale at Boulevard Hypermarket

And yesterday my best friend Ken in Brunei came down from Brunei and had lunch with me. He also gave me a beautiful box of moon cakes. The box is exquisite and my wife loves it. And the moon cakes were really nice. Thanks a lot, my friend!

The beautiful box of moon cakes given to me by my friend Ken...thanks Ken!

To all my friends and readers of this blog, I wish you all a very happy Zhong Qiu Jie!

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It is the time of the year when superstitions reign supreme for a lot of Chinese people. We are right now in the midst of the Hungry Ghost Month which runs from August 10 to September 7 this year, with the Hungry Ghost Festival or zh?ng yun ji falling on August 24.

The fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is called Ghost Festival and the seventh month in general is regarded as the Ghost Month, in which ghosts and spirits, including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from the netherworld, wandering in search for food. On Ghost Day, the deceased are believed to visit the living.

On Ghost Day the realms of Heaven and Hell and the realm of the living are open and both Taoists and Buddhists would perform rituals to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased. Intrinsic to the Ghost Month is ancestor worship, where traditionally the filial piety of descendants extends to their ancestors even after their deaths. Activities during the month would include preparing ritualistic food offerings, burning incense, and burning joss paper, a papier-mache form of material items such as clothes, gold and other fine goods for the visiting spirits of the ancestors. Elaborate meals (often vegetarian meals) would be served with empty seats for each of the deceased in the family treating the deceased as if they are still living. Ancestor worship is what distinguishes Qingming Festival from Ghost Festival because the latter includes paying respects to all deceased, including the same and younger generations, while the former only includes older generations. Other festivities may include releasing miniature paper boats and lanterns on water, which signifies giving directions to the lost ghosts and spirits of the ancestors and other deities.

Chinese celebrate this festival in order to remember their dead family members and pay tribute to them. They also feel that offering food to the deceased appeases them and wards off bad luck. Its important to give them a sumptuous feast, to please them and to bring luck to the family. Taoists and Buddhists perform ceremonies on this day to ease the sufferings of the deceased. Chinese perform these rituals due to fear that the revengeful spirit may come back to take revenge. Some even think that the ghosts would seek revenge on those who had wronged them in their lives.

Offerings during a Hungry Ghost Festival

There is also the belief that some entertainment be provided to please those wandering ghosts. The Ghost Festival in Singapore and Malaysia is modernized by the ‘concert-like’ live night performances on outdoor stages in some neighborhood. The live show is popularly known as ge-tai, performed by a group of singers, dancers and entertainers. Nowadays performances by young girls wearing trendy revealing attire have become very popular. The festival is funded by the residents of each individual residential districts. Karaoke too can be heard and funny Mandarin or Hokkien pantomime is played to the delights of the older generations. Many chairs are lay in front of the stage where the first rows are reserved for the souls of the dead.

Audience at a Hungry Ghost Festival getai show..the first row of seats are reserved for visitors from the netherworld

A scantily-dressed performer at a Hungry Ghost Festival show in Malaysia

The Chinese also do a lot of offerings to the deceased. These offerings are made by burning fake money notes, known as hell money, and even paper television sets, houses and cars to give to their dead relatives. The Chinese feel that these offerings reach the ghosts and help them live comfortably in their world. Some Chinese even burn paper hand phones, computers and other modern gadgets but there are some Chinese who shy away from burning such modern gadgets as they fear that their dead ancestors may not know how to use these gadgets and would therefore drag them to the other world so that they can teach their dead ancestors how to use the gadgets.

Almost as important as honoring your ancestors, offerings to ghosts without families must be made, so that they will not cause you any harm. Ghost month is the most dangerous time of the year, and malevolent spirits are on the look out to capture souls.

Going swimming during the Ghost Month is considered bad as an evil ghost may cause you to drown.This makes ghost month a bad time to do activities such as evening strolls, traveling, picnics, moving house, or starting a new business. No late night are tolerated during the seventh month. Most mums or grandmothers nag for all to be home before midnight. In addition to this, children are also advised to return home early and not to wander around alone at night. This belief is due to the reason that the wandering ghosts might possess children. And during the seventh month, if any death is reported it will be pointed out that, it is due to disobedience. Do not step on the burnt incense papers, you could be possessed. Weddings and business launches are not held as it may bring bad luck. Whistling should be avoided as it may drawsouls to ones home.

The last day of the Ghost Month is when the Gates of Hell are closed up again. The chants of Taoist priests inform the spirits that its time to return, and as they are confined once again to the underworld, they let out an unearthly wail of lament. To make sure all the hungry ghosts find their way back to hell, people flow water lanterns and set them outside their houses. These lanterns are made by setting a lotus flower-shaped lantern on a paper boat. The lanterns are used to direct the ghosts back to the underworld, and when they go out, it symbolizes that they have found their way back.

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