Bright lanterns, colourful garlands, delicious food and exuberant gatherings- the Mooncake Festival adorns Singapore with the most vibrant colours and fills the air with an appetizing scent. Also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Mooncake Festival is a time for praying, thanks giving and celebrating. The Moon Goddess is praised by the people during this festival for the bountiful harvests. This joyous festival falls after the second week of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, on the fifteenth day to be precise, and preserves the age-old Chinese traditions and conventions.
In addition to entertainment, the Mooncake Festival is also a time when people learn more about the Chinese culture and the famous legend of Chang’E. As the name of the festival suggests, during this time, stalls, restaurants and hotels are loaded with scrumptious mooncakes for one and all. From greeting people to gorging on these mouth-watering mooncakes, from expressing gratitude to bowing down in prayer, a festive aura encompasses Singapore as its people set out to dress the city with glittering colours.
Tracing the beginning of the Mooncake Festival
The full moon during autumn has been worshipped by the Chinese since the Shang Dynasty, roughly falling between 1600 BCE – 1046 BCE. However, the worship began to be transformed into a full-fledged festival only during the early years of the Tang Dynasty (618 CE – 907 CE). The stories of the origin of the Mooncake Festival are quite a few. However, the ones that have been passed over the generations are the tales connected to Chang’E.
The Legend of Chang'E
There are two different tales connected to the Moon Goddess of Immortality, Chang'E. According to Lihui Yang's "Handbook of Chinese Mythology", there was an excellent archer in the ancient past, named Hou Yi. He saved the earth and its people from the ten suns that rose and circled the sky together by shooting down nine of them and thus preventing the earth from scorching. This act of bravery led an immortal to admire him and present him with an elixir of immortality. Yi was married to Chang'E and did not wish to be immortal without her, so he handed it to her possession. However, soon after, one of Yi’s apprentices, Peng Meng, learnt of this secret and wished to use the elixir for himself. On the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, he broke into Yi's house in his absence and pestered Chang'E to hand over the elixir to him. To prevent this, Chang'E drank the elixir herself and ascended to the moon. After Yi arrived, he learnt what happened and began a ritual of offering his wife’s favourite fruits and cakes in his yard. Soon, other people found out about the incident and out of sympathy, they also participated in these rites.
In an alternate version of the legend, after Hou Yi defeated the nine suns, he was declared king by the people. However, soon after his rule began, he became a tyrannical ruler. To live as an immortal, he asked for an elixir of immortality from Xi Wang Mu. To save the people from the immortal rule of the conceited Yi, Chang'E stole the elixir and drank it herself, following which she flew up to the moon and became the moon goddess. Overcome by spite, Hou Yi died soon after. As an offering to Chang'E for her sacrifice, the people started praising her and displayed cakes and fruits in their gardens and yards. Since then, the Mid-Autumn Festival began to be celebrated.
Celebration of the Mooncake Festival
Since the Chinese community of Singapore makes up at least 74% of the total population, the Mooncake Festival is one of the most massive local celebrations in the city. It is the time when the moon shines the brightest and people come out to celebrate after twilight falls heavily over them. A popular tradition during the Mooncake Festival is the moon-viewing ceremony, where family members and friends gather together beneath the soft moonlight in their gardens or roofs and watch the wonderful celestial body while sipping tea or eating mooncakes. The houses are ornate with glowing lanterns and fairy lights. The evening sky, too, is beautifully adorned with colourful lanterns that people set afloat as soon as the sun sets.
These lanterns are created in extraordinary shapes – from dragons to ducks, from butterflies to buses; the sky lit up with these wonderful creations is a sight to behold. In a few places within the city, colossal lanterns are showcased so that people may take in the marvellous artistry and craftsmanship. Lantern-painting competitions are also quite popular on this day. Many roadside stalls offer samples of mooncakes and tea to the people thronging the streets. People visit each other and exchange gifts as a gesture of gratitude. All in all, the Mooncake Festival is full of warmth, joy, merriment, and thankfulness.
What makes the Mooncake Festival special?
Even though everything about the Mooncake Festival is special, what makes it extraordinary are the mouth-watering mooncakes which appeal to the taste buds and make you want more with each bite! That is not all. Legend has it that the mooncakes played a prime role in overthrowing the Mongols and liberating Yuan China in the 14th Century. How you ask? Well, there used to be a ban on large social gatherings during the Mongolian Rule. However, the rebel leader Zhu Yuan Zhang laid the foundation of a rebellion by planting confidential messages on mooncakes. The rebel against the Mongols commenced in Mid-Autumn and took the symbolism of the mooncakes to a whole new level altogether.
When is the Mooncake Festival celebrated?
The Mooncake Festival takes place at a time during late September and early October. In 2018, this wonderful festival falls on the 24th of September.
Where can you witness the Mooncake Festival in Singapore?
Singapore does not have a fixed venue for the celebration of the Mooncake Festival as it is celebrated throughout the city. However, Chinatown is beautifully adorned with lanterns, garlands and lights. Besides the extraordinary lanterns on display, Chinatown also hosts carnivals with cultural performances and is a popular hub among the food connoisseurs owing to the different brands of mooncakes put up for sale.
How to reach Chinatown?
The Chinatown MRT Station is right at the heart of the district. Also, Clarke Quay, Raffles Place, Tanjong Pagar and Outram Park are all just a short walk away from Chinatown.
Another place you should not miss if you wish to witness the Mooncake Festival in all its glory is the Chinese Garden. Here, too, the streets are decorated with stunning lanterns and fragrant flowers and stalls are lined up along the pavements selling mooncakes and tea.
How to reach Chinese Garden?
The Chinese Garden MRT is the nearest station, a five-minute walk from the gardens.
The Mooncake Festival is the perfect occasion to come together and be grateful for all the blessings that we have received. Also, it is also the ideal festival to cheat your diet and indulge in some guilty pleasures by gorging on some absolutely scrumptious and appetising mooncakes. So, let the child in you come alive while you paint lanterns before setting them afloat, enjoy cultural performances, have your stomach's fill, and stare at the resplendent embellishments!