mid-autumn festival
A boy smiles as he poses for photos in front of a floating lantern display in SingaporeReuters

Today marks the annual Mid-Autumn Festival, celebrated by Chinese communities all over the world.

Taking place on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, it is the second most important festival to the Chinese after the New Year.

The celebration dates back over 3,000 years to the Shang Dynasty (1600 to 1046 BC), when emperors worshipped the moon in the fall because they thought it would lead to a bountiful harvest.

Moon worship

mid-autumn festival
Visitors walk past moonlight decorations at the Mid-Autumn Festival temple fair in BeijingGetty

Moon worship took the form of sacrifices to the lunar goddess in the succeeding Western Zhou Dynasty (1045 to 770 BC) and the practice has continued to the modern day. Offerings are also made to a deity called Chang'e, known as the Moon Goddess of Immortality.

Mooncakes

mooncakes
A variety of mooncakes with different fillings are displayed for the camera at a hotel in SingaporeReuters

Making, sharing and eating Chinese pastries called mooncakes are a tradition of the festival. In Chinese culture, a round shape symbolises completeness, and sharing the mooncakes signifies the unity of families. A rich thick filling is usually made from red bean or lotus seed paste, but they can also contain fruit, chocolate or savoury foods.

Lanterns

mid-autumn festival
People launch water lanterns during festivities at Gardens By the Bay in SingaporeReuters

The day is celebrated by lighting and display lanterns. In Vietnam, children participate in parades with lanterns of various forms and colours, and one tradition is to write riddles on the lanterns and have others guess the answers.

Traditional foods

cassia wine
Cassia wine, produced from weak baijiu, an alcoholic beverage, and flavoured with sweet osmanthus flowersWiki Commons

Other foods include lotus roots, which symbolise peace, and watermelons cut in the shape of lotus petals. Cassia wine is the traditional choice for the "reunion wine" drunk on the occasion. In Vietnam, cakes and fruits are elaborately prepared as food displays and animals are created out of glutinous rice flour and rice paste.

Romance

mid-autumn festival
Visitors pose for photos with Mid-Autumn Festival decorations at the Gardens by the Bay in SingaporeReuters

The Mid-Autumn moon has traditionally been a choice occasion to celebrate marriages, and in some parts of China, dances are held for young men and women to find partners.

Mongol rule

mooncake
Folklore has it that messages were smuggled in mooncakes to facilitate the overthrow of the Mongol ruleGetty

Messages smuggled in mooncakes were used to facilitate the overthrow of Mongol rule, according to folklore. Mooncakes were used as a medium by the Ming revolutionaries in their espionage effort to secretly distribute letters in order to overthrow the Mongolian rulers of China in the Yuan dynasty.

Not always a full moon

mid-autumn festival
An aeroplane is silhouetted against a full moon in the sky on a Mid-Autumn Festival night in Xuyi, Jiangsu provinceReuters

The Mid-Autumn Festival does not always occur during a full moon, contrary to popular belief, but the full moon will likely occur within two days of the festival.