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20 February 2015
BBC Northern Ireland Learning - Citizenship - KS3/KS4

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Chinese Moon Festival

The Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhong Qiu) is an important event in the Chinese community's calendar. It can also be called the 'Moon Festival' because it is celebrated when the moon is at its brightest (i.e. on fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar) and so the exact date varies from year to year in the Western calendar. In Chinese culture the moon symbolises family reunions and it is a time for family members and loved ones to get together.

There are many legends told to explain the Mid-Autumn Festival's origin. One tells the story of a beautiful woman called Chang Er, who was believed to have taken a pill that would grant immortality, and who then flew to the moon to escape from her husband, a tyrannical warrior. According to the tale, Chang Er can be seen at full moon in mid-autumn.

The most famous legend surrounding the Mid-Autumn Festival concerns its possible role in Chinese history. In the fourteenth century China was ruled by the Mongolian people. Knowing the Moon Festival was approaching, the leaders of a Chinese rebellion ordered the making of special cakes. Baked into each moon cake was a message with the plans for the attack. On the night of the Moon Festival, the rebels successfully attacked and overthrew the government.

Round in shape, moon cakes are now the food most closely associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival. They are made from ground lotus and sesame seed paste and egg yolk, and wrapped in pastry (although they can have other fillings as well). They are often taken as gifts to relatives. Another symbol of the Mid-Autumn Festival is lanterns. These are very popular with children and are made in many different shapes including animals, fish and fruit.

In Northern Ireland the Chinese community will hold a number of organised dinners (in Belfast and a few other towns), as well as families getting together at a restaurant or in their own homes (as one Northern Ireland family is doing in the panorama photograph). Unlike in warmer countries, the weather is a bit cold for going outside to gaze at the full moon!

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