Originally named the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Moon Festival or Zhongqiu Jie in Chinese is one of the most important holidays celebrated by Chinese communities around the world.
Celebrated traditionally on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, this festival is celebrated in observance of the bountiful autumn harvest. Although old rituals are not followed closely, families continue to gather to relax, eat moon cakes, and narrate the legend of the Moon Goddess, Chang-E.
Once upon a time, there was a famous archer, Hou Yi, who with his arrows was able to slay mankind’s worst enemies – ferocious beasts that inhabited the earth. Yi was married to Chang-E, a beautiful but inquisitive woman. At this time, there were 10 suns that took turns circling the earth – one for every 10 days. One day, all 10 of the orbs circled together, causing the earth’s surface to burn and threatened mankind. The wise emperor of China summoned Yi and commanded him to kill one of the suns. Yi proceeded to do this and upon the completion of his task, Yi was rewarded with a pill, the elixir of life, and advised: “Make no haste to swallow this pill, but first prepare yourself with prayer and fasting for a year.” Being a wise man, Yi took the pill home and hid it under a rafter while he began healing his spirit. In the midst of this, Yi was summoned again by the emperor.
While her husband was gone, Chang-E noticed a beam of white light beckoning from the rafter. She followed it and discovered the pill and swallowed it. Immediately, Chang-E found she could fly. Just at that moment her husband returned home, realized what had happened and began to reprimand his wife. Chang-E flew out the window into the sky. Yi sped after her, bow in hand, and the pursuit continued halfway across the heavens. Finally, Yi had to return to earth because of the force of the wind.
His wife reached the moon and there, breathless, she coughed and part of the pill fell from her mouth. Now, the hare was already on the moon and Chang-E commanded the animal to take pestle and mortar and pound another pill so that she could return to earth and her husband. According to legend, the hare is still pounding.
As for Yi, he built himself a palace on the sun as Yang (the sun and the male principle), Chang-E as Yin (the moon and the female principle).
Once a year, on the 15th day of the full moon, Yi visits his wife. This is the reason, it is said, that the moon is full and beautiful on that night.
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