Over the Moon at Singapore’s Mid-Autumn Festival

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Handcrafted lanterns at Singapore's Mid-Autumn Festival
Handcrafted lanterns at Singapore’s Mid-Autumn Festival

You’re well-travelled, so no doubt you’re familiar with Asian Festivals such as the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year. But what about the Mid-Autumn Festival?

It’s just as notable as the others, and as you’d expect, it incorporates all the mystique of traditional Chinese legend to give it a truly magical air.

Mid-Autumn Festival in Singapore

The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated worldwide by both the Chinese and Vietnamese. Steeped in both legend and history, it’s no surprise that this colourful and lively celebration has spread its wings worldwide – in fact, wherever you find Chinese-culture.

If you are fortunate enough to find yourself in Singapore’s Chinatown during September and October, you’ll find yourself shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of others at the Mid-Autumn Festival, immersed in rich smells, a cacophony of melodious noises and the warmth of heady autumn evening.

Samui Women display at the Mid-Autumn Festival in Singapore.
Samui Women display at the Mid-Autumn Festival in Singapore.

Just look skywards for confirmation (there will be thousands of hand-painted lanterns festooning the streets). It’s a festival where the melee of events and celebrations is as eclectic as the Chinatown hawkers and the mooncakes, a melting pot of legend, tradition, history and a modern-day festival vibe.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is believed to date back to the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC) when farmers post-harvest, celebrated their bumper crops and partied under the glow of a full moon. Since that time the festival has taken on different forms of observation.

For example, at one time, villagers would flock to thank mountain deities for a plentiful harvest or give thanks to dragons for providing the water. Regardless of the celebration’s intricacies, there was and still is one central theme that remains consistent – the Chinese’ devout worship to the moon, in particular to Chang’e.

Chang’e is the inadvertent Moon Goddess, wife of legendary hero Hou Yi and focal point of today’s Mid-Autumn celebrations. The legend goes that Hou Yi’ selflessly saved the planet and its people from burning to death. With 10 suns in the sky, things on Earth were getting pretty hot and unbearable. Hou Yi, obviously a good aim (despite the weather conditions and the glare), shot down one of the suns and as a reward was granted his ascension to heaven as a god.

Water buffalo at the Singapore Mid-Autumn Festival
Water buffalo at the Singapore Mid-Autumn Festival

All this made possible when he drank an elixir, given to him by Wagmu (the Heaven Queen). However, rather than become a god himself, Hou Yi decided to give his elixir to his beloved wife Chang’e to take at a later date.  Unfortunately, this exchange was seen by Peng Meng who tried to steal the elixir from Chang’e. Realising that Peng Meng would be a rotten god,  Chang’e selflessly drank the elixir and ascended.   Hou Yi, realising his lover’s fate, looked skywards and saw her beautiful face appear alongside the moon. Since that day, people have given offerings to the Goddess of the Moon, Chang’e.

Mid-Autumn Festival Activities

The moon, therefore, is central to Chinese Mid-Autumn celebrations. It’s traditionally a time for families to take their tables outside and eat and talk to the small hours, under its glow.

A modern take on this is for the entire family to go into Chinatown and walk through the streets, taking in the lanterns, the hawkers, dancers, dragons, music and celebrations.

Children get particularly excited at this time of year. They often hand-paint lanterns with pictures of animals, write riddles and squiggle patterns, holding them tightly as they join the throbbing lantern procession. Looking down from a high vantage point, you’ll see thousands of little moons bobbing up and down Chinatown’s streets.

Mid-Autumn Festival Food

Of course, there’s nothing like the food at a festival, and this is where mooncakes come in. It used to be customary to bake mooncakes and share them amongst family and friends. However, these pastries in, you guessed it, the shape of a full moon, are now on sale in most bakeries and patisseries.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is a popular event in Singapore.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is a popular event in Singapore.

The traditional bean paste filling has been exchanged for something more gourmet. At one time, these cakes were split between the number of people in the family. Not great news if you’re from a big family.

If you’re full of mooncakes, there is a huge selection of both traditional and modern Cantonese cuisine. In Singapore, this year’s celebrations pay particular focus to street food commonly found in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Menus feature more than 10 popular Cantonese delicacies with traditional dishes which are hard to come by,  such as Gold Coin Chicken and Prawn Toast.

This year’s Mid Autumn Festival events are held from early September through to the 8th October in Singapore’s Chinatown. The majority of this year’s events focus on yesteryear and heritage, reminding both Singaporeans and visitors about their Chinese forefathers.

If you have time on your side, consider yourself lucky. The Mid-Autumn celebrations include: lanterns, mooncakes, centrepieces showcasing the vocations of the first Chinese settlers, dragon dances and a variety of street activities like fortune telling, face threading, Chinese calligraphy, Cantonese costume photo booth, opera and a World Record attempt at the most number of people wearing an Oriental mask at one time.

If You Go

Mid-Autumn Festival in Singapore
www.chinatownfestivals.sg