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The early form of the Mid-Autumn Festival was derived from the custom of moon worship during the Zhou Dynasty over 3,000 years ago.
In ancient China, most emperors worshiped the moon annually. Then the custom was accepted by the masses and became more and more popular over time.
Ancient Chinese emperors worshiped the harvest moon in autumn, as they believed that the practice would bring them a plentiful harvest the following year.
The custom of offering sacrifices to the moon originated from worshiping the moon goddess, and it was recorded that kings offered sacrifices to the moon in fall during the Western Zhou Dynasty (1045 – 770 BC).
The term "Mid-Autumn" first appeared in the book Rites of Zhou (周礼), written in the Warring States Period (475 – 221 BC). But at that time the term was only related to the time and season; the festival didn't exist at that point.
In the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD), appreciating the moon became popular among the upper class.
Following the emperors, rich merchants and officials held big parties in their courts. They drank and appreciated the bright moon. Music and dances were also indispensable. The common citizens just prayed to the moon for a good harvest.
Later in the Tang Dynasty, not just the rich merchants and officials, but also the common citizens, began appreciating the moon together.
In the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD), the 15th day of the 8th lunar month was established as the "Mid-Autumn Festival". From then on, sacrificing to the moon was very popular, and has become a custom ever since.
The tradition of eating mooncakes during the festival began in the Yuan Dynasty (1279 – 1368), a dynasty ruled by the Mongols. Messages to rebel against the Mongols were passed around in mooncakes.
People promoted many different activities to celebrate it, such as burning pagodas and performing the fire dragon dance.
Nowadays, many traditional activities are disappearing from Mid-Autumn festivities, but new trends have been generated.
Most workers and students regard it simply as a public holiday to escape work and school. People go out traveling with families or friends, or watch the Mid-Autumn Festival Gala on TV at night.