Moon Festival

One of my most favourite festivals in China is the Mid-Autumn Festival. It is the second most important Chinese celebration of the year after the Lunar New Year (Spring Festival celebrating the Chinese New Year). It is also called Moon Festival or the Harvest Festival and falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, when the moon is at its apogee and at its brightest symbolizing ‘completeness’.

Many legends are associated with this festival and the one I prefer refers to Hou Yi, God of the Sun, who was only allowed to visit his beloved wife, Lady Chang Er, on the moon, once a year. Legend says that the moon shines brightest on that day because of their love.

The Chinese word for round has a similar pronunciation to the words reunion and perfect. This festival is a day for family reunions and the traditional gifts are ‘moon cakes’, round baked cakes in the shape of the moon. The traditional filling used to be a simple egg yolk – symbolizing the moon, surrounded by white lotus paste or red bean paste, and sometimes with assorted nuts and dried fruits.

In Chinese culture, Moon Cakes symbolize a host of good things:

  • The circle (shape of the Moon Cake) is a symbol of harmony.
  • The round shape stands for family unity and symbolizes the cycle of life, connecting the past, present, and future
  • It also symbolizes long life and good health

In the 14th Century, messages were contained inside Moon Cakes for secret communication promoting a rebellion against the ruling Yuan Dynasty, which had been founded by Kublai Khan. It was eventually replaced with the Ming Dynasty and the story says that Moon Cakes were credited with the victory.

In the 1990s, I used to drive to the Tan Zhe Si Temple, outside of Beijing, to view the Moon on this spectacular evening. One time, a friend of mine from Hong Kong flew specially to Beijing on the occasion. She had heard so much from me about spending the night watching the Moon at the temple that she could not resist and eventually made the trip. The night was truly spectacular and especially when the Moon appeared between two ancient and majestic pine trees. Enjoying Moon Cakes and a bottle of wine, we surely saw Lady Chang Er on the Moon as the ancient pines were slowly moving in the gentle breeze and singing their special tune.

Nowadays, the sky is literally the limit with regards to Moon Cake fillings. People can enjoy, in addition to traditional savoury moon cakes, many sweet options such as chocolate moon cakes and ice cream moon cakes.

Traditional Beijing moon cakes

Traditional Beijing moon cakes

Also, Beijing has its own types of Moon Cakes made without egg yolk, smaller and less opulent than traditional ones. They are called Zi Lai Hong and Zi Lai Bai. The former is darker and has the distinctive taste of sesame oil and sweet osmanthus paste. The latter is filled with walnut, raisin and dry osmanthus.

Enjoy!

2015 SPRING FESTIVAL: ON THE WAY HOME

During the overall Spring Festival holiday period known as ‘chunyun’, the transportation sector in China ramps up to maximum capacity to manage 40 days of heavy demand. It started on February 4 and will run until March 16 to allow many millions of people to make it home and spend their only yearly holiday with their family before returning back to urban centers where they work during the rest of the year.

This annual travel rush may be the largest recurrent human migration in the world. During the travel peak last year, Chinese passengers made more than 3.6 billion trips. Among them, about 3.3 billion were made by road, 266 million by rail, 44 million by air, 42 million by ship and a few ….. on foot.

Indeed, freezing rain and fog recently shut down Leigong Mountain’s highway in Guizhou province’s Qiandongnan Miao and Dong autonomous prefecture ahead of China’s biggest annual celebration. The closure forced people returning to Yongle county and Datang village to hike 20 kilometers on the slick road. Some hauled luggage and festival foods – even a live pig dangling from a bamboo yoke. The trek took about five hours but they all made it home!

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Photos by Chen Peiliang for China Daily

 This year, more than one million trips were made via 12,500 airline flights on February 4, while the China Railway Corp, operator of the country’s trains, said it handled 6 million trips on the same day and they expect about 289 million trips will be made this year, 26 million more than last year.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China forecast that more than 47 million trips will be made by air this year, and it has arranged for Chinese airlines to add 8,740 domestic flights and 3,052 international flights to deal with the passenger surge.

Easter Egg Tradition

Collection of Easter Eggs

Easter, the most significant Christian holiday, comes with many different ancient traditions and customs that vary from country to country.

In Slovakia, Easter egg decoration goes far beyond simple painting and also includes dying, carving and cutting, depending on people’s skills and talents. Some decorate them with lace and fabrics or create elaborate patterns with wax pencils.

These eggs are actually works of art in their own right even if they obviously cannot compare with the exquisite jewelled eggs made by goldsmith Peter Carl Fabergé at the Imperial Russian Court.

Nowadays, people hang them at home before the Easter week or give them as gifts to family members and friends. In the old days, coloured eggs were exchanged as an ancient rite of spring, centuries before the early Christians celebrated Easter.

The Saxons, who regarded the egg as proof of the renewal of life, used eggs in festivals dedicated to Easter, the goddess of fertility. With the advent of Christianity, these festivals were incorporated into the observance of the Resurrection of Christ, and the holiday’s name eventually evolved into ‘Easter.’

I have in my personal collection, 34 Slovak-decorated Easter eggs carefully hand-carried to Beijing from my home country (in addition, there are a few acquired in Beijing, these are with the ladybird painted on them).

In China, before Easter weekend comes around, I hang the coloured eggs on ‘bahniatka‘ or pussy willow branches and I also put some in a traditional Slovak-decorated plate from home.

This practice always brings me fond memories of happy family gatherings and festive dining, sometimes very simple, as it is at our home on Saturday before Easter, in the late afternoon and early evening, like potato salad, cooked ham on the bone and hard-boiled eggs.

Sometimes the dining is more elaborate as it is on Easter Sunday lunch, with leg of lamb (please click here for recipe) or roasted young goat as the main course, and plenty of cookies and traditional pastries to end the meal.

I also found in China, a water splashing festival in Yunnan Province that is similar to the “water pouring” festivities we have on Easter Monday in Slovakia. On this day young male adults visit their female relatives and friends and pour water on them or spray them with perfume, and whip them gently with special whips made of braided young willow branches.

According to tradition, pouring water on women will guarantee her good health throughout the year. Once the water dousing and whipping are over, the women reward men with sweets, fruit, or painted Easter eggs. In the old days, the pouring of water had a rejuvenating meaning and was said to wash away all the evils and diseases from the body.

VESELE VELKONOCNE SVIATKY! ( HAPPY EASTER )