Mid-Autumn Festival or "Zong Qiu Jie" falls on the 15 th day of the eighth lunar month, in the middle of autumn season. On this day, the moon is at its greatest distance from the earth; at no other time is it so luminous.
Moon cakes or "yue bing" is an essential item during the festival. This round cake is usually only several inches in diameter with sweet fillings made of flaked pastry come on sale shortly before festival time. In the past, one could get some cakes shaped like pagodas, others like a horse and rider, fish and animals. Still others were decorated with the images of rabbits, flowers, or goddesses. There were a myriad different fillings available : sugar, melon seeds, almonds, orange peel, date paste, smashed bean, sweetened cassia bloom, walnut, bits of ham and preserved beef and etc. The moon cakes of Guangdong are most popular and available throughout the
country, with fillings of egg yolk, lotus seed paste, and coconut. Today, one can even get an ice cream moon cake!
"According to folk legend , autumn moon cakes were also the means for overthrowing the foreign Mongols of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). The time and place for the revolution against Kublai Khan's descendents were hidden inside the moon cakes which were sent to friends and relatives at the festival time in the year 1353. The secretly planned midnight massacre of the Mongols led by Liu Bowen, intrepid counselor of a founding emperor of the Ming dynasty, resulted in the capture of a strategically important prefecture, which hastened the downfall of the dynasty."
On the evening before the Mid-Autumn celebration, families would prepare plates filled with round fruits, grapes, apples, pears, pomegranates, honey peaches, crab apples, sour betel nuts, and moon cakes. The round shape of these food symbolize not on the fullness of the moon but also the unity of the family. Friends will gather together, chatting up, eating cakes, drinking tea or sipping wine under the bright moonlight. Well-to-do people exchanged presents, mostly pears, grapes, pomegranates and moon cakes. In some areas pears were excluded from the traditional fruits displayed because the Chinese word for "pear" - "li" is homonym to the Chinese word for "separation" and therefore considered inauspicious.
Lanterns are also a feature of the Mid-Autumn festival. Made from colored paper and fitted with candles, they come in an assortment of shapes and sizes such as dragons, butterflies, fishes and other animals. Today, lanterns manufactured into cartoon characters such as Pokemon, Spiderman and etc. equipped with battery-operated bulbs are everywhere. Carried when the night falls in villages and towns, it is a tradition that is looked forward to by both young and old.