The Mid-Autumn Festival is also called the Moon Festival or the Mooncake Festival. It traditionally falls on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, which is in September or early October on the Gregorian calendar.
In 2021, the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on September 21st (Tuesday). Chinese people have a 3-day public holiday from September 19th to 21st.
A “mid-autumn festival” is also celebrated in many other Asian communities besides China. In China, it's a reunion time for families, just like Thanksgiving, while in Vietnam, it's more like a children's day.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is the second most important festival in China after Chinese New Year. Chinese people celebrate it by gathering for dinners, worshiping the moon, lighting paper lanterns, eating mooncakes, etc.
- How the Chinese Celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival?
- Mid-Autumn Festival in Other Asian Countries
- Mid-Autumn Festival Greetings
- Mid-Autumn Festival Gifts
Mid-Autumn Festival Facts
- Name in Chinese: 中秋节 Zhōngqiūjié /jong-chyoh-jyeah/ 'middle autumn festival'
- Also called: Mooncake Festival, Moon Festival
- 2021 date: Tuesday, September 21st. See more on Mid-Autumn Festival Dates.
- Public holiday: September 19–21 (Sunday–Tuesday), 2021
- Why it's celebrated: to worship the moon and celebrate the harvest
- Must-eat food: mooncake
- Celebrations: family gatherings, admiring the full moon, eating mooncakes, lantern lighting, etc.
- Greetings: The simplest is "Happy Mid-Autumn Festival" (中秋快乐 'Mid-Autumn happy').
For more, see 10 Interesting Mid-Autumn Facts.
How the Chinese Celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival
As the second most important festival in China, Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated in many traditional ways. Here are some of the most popular traditional celebrations.
Enjoying Family Reunions
The roundness of the moon represents the reunion of the family in Chinese minds.
Families will have dinner together on the evening of the Mid-Autumn Festival.
The public holiday (usually 3 days) is mainly for Chinese people working in different places to have enough time to reunite. Those staying too far away from their parents’ home usually get together with friends.
Mooncakes are the most representative food for the Mid-Autumn Festival, because of their round shape and sweet flavor. Family members usually gather round and cut a mooncake into pieces and share its sweetness.
Nowadays, mooncakes are made in various shapes (round, square, heart-shaped, animal-shaped …) and in various flavors, which make them more attractive and enjoyable for a variety of consumers. In some shopping malls, super big mooncakes may be displayed to attract customers.
Appreciating the Moon
The full moon is the symbol of family reunions in Chinese culture. It is said, sentimentally, that “the moon on the night of Mid-Autumn Festival is the brightest and the most beautiful”.
Chinese people usually set a table outside their houses and sit together to admire the full moon while enjoying tasty mooncakes. Parents with little kids often tell the legend of Chang'e Flying to the Moon. As a game, kids try their best to find the shape of Chang'e on the moon.
Want to share the Mid-Autumn Festival story with your family? The 3-minute video below will show you all about it.
There are many Chinese poems praising the beauties of the moon and expressing people’s longing for their friends and families at Mid-Autumn.
Worshiping the Moon
According to the legend of Mid-Autumn Festival, a fairy maiden named Chang’e lives on the moon with a cute rabbit. On the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, people set a table under the moon with mooncakes, snacks, fruits, and a pair of candles lit on it. Some believe that by worshiping the moon, Chang’e (the moon goddess) may fulfill their wishes.
Making Colorful Lanterns
This is children's favorite activity. Mid-Autumn lanterns have many shapes and can resemble animals, plants, or flowers. The lanterns are hung in trees or on houses, creating beautiful scenes at night.
Some Chinese people write good wishes on the lanterns for health, harvests, marriage, love, education, etc. In some countryside areas, local people light lanterns that fly up into the sky or make lanterns that float on rivers and release them like prayers of dreams coming true.
In modern times, besides the traditional activities, many Chinese people send WeChat red envelopes and/or go traveling during the 3-day public holiday to celebrate the festival.
Check out more on Mid-Autumn Festival Celebrations.
Besides the above common celebrations, different regions also have some unique traditions. For example, in Hong Kong, an annual fire dragon show is held in the Tai Hang neighborhood during Mid-Autumn Festival.
- Mid-Autumn Festival in Hong Kong
- Mid-Autumn Festival in Beijing
- Mid-Autumn Festival in Shanghai
- Mid-Autumn Festival in Hangzhou
- Mid-Autumn Festival in Guangzhou
The special Mid-Autumn Festival customs of China's ethnic minorities are also very interesting.
Mid-Autumn Festival Is Also Celebrated in Other Asian Countries
In many Asian communities besides China, the Mid-Autumn Festival is widely celebrated. Many interesting activities with unique local features are held.
In Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines — three countries with many ethnic Chinese citizens — the celebrations are more Chinese, such as lighting lanterns and dragon dances. The date is also the same as in China, but there is no public holiday.
In other countries, such as Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam, which have also been influenced deeply by Chinese culture, new celebrations have been derived from their unique cultures.
Read about them below:
- Mid-Autumn Festival in Japan
- Mid-Autumn Festival in Vietnam
- Mid-Autumn Festival in Singapore
- Mid-Autumn Festival in Malaysia
- Mid-Autumn Festival in the Philippines
- Mid-Autumn Festival in South Korea
Mid-Autumn Festival Greetings: Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!...
Mid-Autumn Festival is a pleasant time. Many Chinese people send e-cards or short messages during the festival to express their best wishes to family and friends. The most popular greeting is ‘Happy Mid-Autumn Festival’.
Other popular sayings are usually related to the moon or reunion. For example:
‘Wishing us a long life to share the graceful moonlight, though hundreds of miles apart.’
Dàn yuàn rén chángjiǔ, qiānlǐ gòng chánjuān
‘Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! May the round moon bring you a happy family and a successful future.’
Zhùfú Zhōngqiū jiā jié kuàilè, yuè yuán rén yuán shìshì yuánmǎn.
Check out more on Popular Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival Greetings/Sayings.
Mid-Autumn Festival Gifts
During Mid-Autumn Festival, people love to give gifts to their loved ones, friends, parents, other relatives, and staff. Mooncakes are the top option among all gifts.
In recent years, mooncakes have been made in various shapes to make them attractive, like animal shapes, flower shapes, love heart shapes, etc., but round mooncakes are still loved by most people for their reunion symbolism.
For more on this, read Top 10 Mooncakes in China — Delicious Chinese/Western Flavors.
Other popular gifts are fresh hairy crab (particularly around Shanghai), tea, fruit baskets, and organic rice and oil.
Read more on Popular Mid-Autumn Festival Gifts.
What Food Is Eaten during Mid-Autumn Festival
Celebrating the harvest is one of the most traditional meanings of Mid-Autumn Festival, thus harvest foods are favored during the festive period. The top Mid-Autumn Festival foods are:
- Hairy crabs
Mooncakes are the must-eat Mid-Autumn food in China. They are a traditional Chinese pastry. Chinese people see in the roundness of mooncakes a symbol of reunion and happiness.
Other foods eaten during the festival are harvest foods, such as crabs, pumpkins, pomelos, and grapes. People enjoy them at their freshest, most nutritious time, and enjoy their auspicious meanings that are particularly associated with round foods.
Read more on The Top 10 Mooncake Flavors Westerners Might Like.
Does the Moon Look Biggest at Mid-Autumn Festival?
In China, the expression that "the moon is extraordinarily full during the Mid-Autumn Festival" has been passed on from generation to generation. Chinese people fancifully imagine the moon of the Mid-Autumn Festival is extraordinarily bright, bigger, and fuller.
Actually, a supermoon (when the moon is closest to the Earth) is no more likely to occur at Mid-Autumn that any other time of year.
Also, the harvest moon (the full moon closest to the fall equinox) does not always coincide perfectly with Mid-Autumn Festival, which is contrary to popular belief that Mid-Autumn Festival night is the best night to enjoy the glorious full moon.
In some years, the full moon is on the festival day, while in other years, the full moon occurs the day after the festival. This doesn’t affect Chinese people’s enjoyment of the moon on the night of Mid-Autumn Festival though, because the happiness of a family reunion is considered more important than astronomy!
FAQs about Mid-Autumn Festival
1. When Did Mid-Autumn Festival Become a Festival?
Mid-Autumn Festival has a history of over 3,000 years. It was derived from the custom of moon worship during the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BC). Long after that, it was first celebrated as a national festival during the Northern Song Dynasty era (960–1127). Learn more
2. Why Mid-Autumn Festival Is Celebrated?
In the past, Mid-Autumn Festival was celebrated at harvest time. Ancient Chinese emperors worshiped the moon in autumn to thank it for the harvest.
Ordinary people took the Mid-Autumn Festival to be a celebration of their hard work and harvests.
Nowadays, people mainly celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival as a time for family reunions.
Read about the Mid-Autumn Festival Origins.
Travel Tips for the Mid-Autumn Holiday
The festival has long been allocated a statutory day of public holiday in Mainland China. Chinese people increasingly love to travel during their holidays to escape from their busy lives.
See the 9 Best Places to Celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival to get inspiration for your vacation.
For the best experience, book in advance and let somebody in the know, like China Highlights’ experts, help to create your trip so that you avoid the crowds.