At the end of September it was Mooncake, or Lantern festival. This is what I’ve always known it as, along with Harvest Moon festival, but it seems to be more widely known as Mid-Autumn festival. It’s a Chinese festival that takes place after the harvest season, and the most notable element of it is the little mooncakes that are given away and eaten.

2012-11-07 Mooncake 01

They’re lovely, moist, sweet, ‘bun cakes’ traditionally made of lotus seed paste, sometimes with a whole egg yolk baked into the middle. The tops usually have intricate designs which include Chinese characters for good fortune. There are now countless varieties of fillings, crusts, and additional seeds/yolks/fruit etc, but my favourite is still the plain lotus seed one.

There are several stories about Mooncake festival, but the one I’ve always been familiar with is about medieval Chinese rebels overthrowing Mongol tyrants, and using these little cakes with messages baked inside to secretly communicate about the rebellion. As the Chinese calendar is a lunar one, full moons are significant, so presumably the full moon during the rebellion, and also the full moon after the harvest season, is symbolised by the round shape of the mooncake. Perhaps the yolk in the middle symbolises the secret message, or perhaps it’s doubly good fortune to have a moon within a moon…or perhaps people just like baked egg yolks…There are also stories about moon goddesses or beautiful ladies having to leave their beloved and live on the moon, but I’m a little hazy on the details…

Part of the festival is also the ‘lantern walk,’ where children carry lanterns with a candle inside, and walk together. Kinda like Asian trick or treating…I guess if you have a festival that’s about appreciating the moon, it’s only natural to carry pretty, illuminated lanterns at night. I think in China these are full scale city parades now, but in my little Malaysian suburb I remember going on these lantern walks with other kids in my neighbourhood, and those days our lanterns were usually the traditional animals of the Chinese zodiac. They were made of thin coloured plastic sheets wrapped around a wire ‘box-like’ frame, with the animal’s face and body details painted in. The frame also had a holder in the middle for a small candle, and wire or string coming from the top, which was usually attached to a stick that you held. All very cute and nostalgic, except for that one time I held my lantern at the wrong angle and the plastic caught fire, and that was the end of my poor lantern. There were tears. As you can see, I’ve never got over it. Anyway, nowadays (or the last time I saw them in the shops, several years ago…) boring zodiac animals just don’t cut it anymore, and you’ve got a whole range of cartoon characters. Also, they’re made of ‘proper’ plastic, and there’s not a candle in sight, oh no, it’s all about the battery operated lights with multifunction switches now…not like the glorious days of the early 90s where fire and tears were all part of the fun…

It’s been a while since I’ve been home at the right time of year for this festival, so I’ve not had mooncake for a few years. This year, my parents managed to send me some mooncakes, through a rather convoluted, spur-of-the-moment arrangement, via friends who were travelling to London, via my brother, via Royal Mail, ending up in my back garden as the package was too big for my postbox. But they came to me in the end, and yesterday I ate up the last one.

2012-11-07 Mooncake 03

Yes, I ate a whole mooncake in one sitting. No, you don’t normally, they’re pretty stodgy.  Yes, I enjoyed every bit of it. That’s my lunar blessings for the year sorted…

1 thought on “Mooncake

  1. Pingback: Our weddings – KL | Time flies when you're having fun…

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