18 Popular Mid-Autumn Festival Traditions

How do Chinese celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival? Since ancient times, there have been various Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival traditions including worshipping the moon, appreciating the full moon, eating moon cakes, enjoying osmanthus, and drinking osmanthus wine. Here are the 18 popular Mid-Autumn Festival traditions.

1. Have Fun in Moonlight

On the night of Mid-Autumn Festival, people wear beautiful clothes to have fun in moonlight. They stroll in the streets, appreciate the moon, talk and laugh with friends and families. In southern Jiangsu, northern Zhejiang and Shanghai, people also walk over at least three bridges in order to surpass all sufferings.

2. Worship the Moon

The worship of the moon is a very old Mid-Autumn Festival tradition in China. People would set a large table facing the direction of the moon, with the tablet of the Moon God, sticks of incense and the red candles on it; then add moon cakes, watermelons, apples, red dates, plums, grapes and other sacrifices. Then the whole family worships the moon in turn, praying for blessing.

3. Appreciate the Full Moon

It is said that the moon is closest to the earth, and looks the brightest during the festival. Therefore, since ancient times, there has been a custom of admiring the moon. This Chinese Moon Festival traditions has been formed in the Three Kingdoms to Jin Dynasty (220 - 420 AD). In the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD), appreciating the moon had been quite popular.

Snow Skin Mooncakes
Snow Skin Mooncakes

4. Eat Mooncakes

Eating moon cakes is a popular Chinese Moon Festival tradition. Moon cakes were originally used to worship the moon god. Later, people appreciate the moon while tasting the moon cakes on the Mid-Autumn Festival. Moon cakes symbolize the family reunion, and people regard it as a festival food, as well as a sacrifice to the moon and a festival gift to relatives and friends.

See also

Traditional Mooncakes in China - 12 Types of Regional Variations                

10 Best Mooncakes in China - Have you ever tried?

10 Most Popular Mooncake Flavors - Which one do you like?

5. Watch the Tide

Watching the tidal flow on the Qiantang River can be described as a grand Mid-Autumn Festival tradition in Zhejiang. The custom has a long history, and there have been quite detailed descriptions of watching the tide in the Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD). As the moon is the closest to the earth around Mid-Autumn Festival in a year, the tidal water is highest during the festival. Even today, watching the tide on the Qiantang River is still one of the most popular Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival traditions, attracting tourists from all over the world.

6. Make and Hang Festival Lanterns

Making and hanging festival lanterns is popular in south China. There are various lanterns made from many kinds of materials for children, such as eggshells, straw, fish scales, chaffs, and melon seeds, which are amazing. What’s more, in Guangdong and Hong Kong, with help of parents, the children use bamboo paper to make rabbit lanterns, carambola lanterns or square lanterns, and then hang them in high trees.

 See also Why Chinese make Mid-Autumn Festival lanterns?

7. Fire Dragon Dance

The fire dragon dance is a Moon Festival tradition in Hong Kong. From the fourteenth day of the eighth lunar month, it is held in the Tai Hang area of Causeway Bay for three consecutive nights. The fire dragon is made of pearl grass, which consists of 32 sections and being more than 70 meters long in the whole. The fire dragon is inserted with longevity incenses. On the nights of the event, an undulating fire dragon dancing under the lights together with drum music makes the streets very busy and lively.

8. Play Lord Rabbit

Worshipping the Lord Rabbit can be dated to the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 AD). In Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911 AD), the Lord Rabbit became a Mid-Autumn Festival game for children. The Lord Rabbit is made of mud, with a human body but a rabbit's head. It is either sitting or standing or riding the beast. Among the Mid-Autumn Festival traditions of Beijing, worshipping the Lord Rabbit is actually more like a game, so it is called paly the Lord Rabbit.

9. Appreciate Osmanthus

Osmanthus are in full bloom during the Mid-Autumn Festival. At the Mid-Autumn Festival night, people admire osmanthus in the moonlight, smelling it and drinking a cup of sweet osmanthus wine, which is a popular activity to do with family members on the reunion day.

10. Drink Osmanthus Wine

Around the Mid-Autumn Festival, people also make wine with osmanthus and drink osmanthus wine. The sweet osmanthus wine represents people’s best wishes for a happy family.

Osmanthus in Full Bloom
Osmanthus in Full Bloom
Quick-fried Snails
Quick-fried Snails

11. Eat Snails

It is believed that eating snails on the Mid-Autumn Festival is good for the eyesight. Besides, the snails are particularly fat during the festival. Nowadays, many families have the habit of frying snails on the Mid-Autumn Festival in Guangzhou.

12. Light up Pagoda Lamp

In the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 AD) and Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911 AD), there was a Moon Festival tradition to light up the pagoda lamp on that night, which was mainly popular in south China. The pagoda lamp is usually piled up with rubbles collected by children. The villagers in Suzhou used the tiles to form a seven-level pagoda in the wild, and made bright lamps surrounded it. Children in Guangzhou lighted up the tower lamp made of broken tiles.

13. Burn Incense in the Gauge Box

People would burn incense in a gauge box at the night of Mid-Autumn Festival in Jiangsu. The gauge box is pasted with velvet on the surface, and the Moon Palace is painted on the velvet. There are also gauge boxes made of incense, with colorful flags inserted in it. To burn incenses on the festival, showing joy and solemnity, is a prayer for safety and good fortune.

14. Steal Vegetables

It is a popular Mid-Autumn Festival tradition in Hunan. According to legend, the fairies on the moon descend to the mortal world to sprinkle the nectars on the earth on the Mid-Autumn Festival. The fairy nectars are for everyone, so people can share the fruits and vegetables sprinkled with nectars together this night. In Taiwan, if an unmarried girl successfully steals onions and other vegetables from other people's gardens on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, it is said she will have a perfect husband in the future.

15. Hear Words for Divination

It is a Mid-Autumn Festival tradition in ancient times. If a girl wanted to have a good marriage, she burned incense sticks, made a wish and asked the gods to tell her the direction she should go to hear words. Walking towards the direction given by gods, she would remember the first words she heard by accident or overheard and went home to define their meaning. If the words she heard were about eating sweet cakes, flowers in bloom or the full moon, it meant a good fortune on marriage.

16. Throw Handkerchief to Select Bridegroom

This is a romantic Mid-Autumn Festival tradition. In some areas of Fujian Province, a colorful stage is set up at the night of Mid-Autumn Festival, which is decorated like the moon palace. Some unmarried girls would put on Mid-Autumn Festival clothing and dress as the Chang’e, the fairy living in the moon palace. Each girl has two same handkerchiefs, and they would throw one to the audiences. If a guy got a handkerchief, he would be allowed to go on to the stage to return it. If the two with the same handkerchiefs like each other, they can make friends, even get married later.

17. Send Melons to Wish the Receiver a Baby

In Hengyang, Hunan Province, anyone who has been married with no child, would receive melons sent by neighbors on the Mid-Autumn Festival. It is said if the wife eats the melons, she will be pregnant soon. But in ancient times, they stole the melon in advance to have a series of rituals, then sent the melon to the relatives who had no child on the festival.  

18. Pray for a Good Marriage & Bathe in the Moonlight

In the old days, the single girls and boys would kindle the incense sticks and candles to pray to the moon god for a good marriage at the mid-night of Mid-Autumn Festival.

It is also said the moonlight of Mid-Autumn Festival night can bring married women good luck. Therefore, in some areas, there is a Mid-Autumn Festival tradition that married women who have been childless for a long time should go out to bathe in the moonlight on the festival night.

 Further Reading
Top 6 Mid-Autumn Festival Activities

Customs on Mid-Autumn Festival

Customs of Ethnic Minorities on Mid-Autumn Festival

- Last updated on Apr. 14, 2021 -
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