Mooncakes, lanterns and legends: Your guide to the Mid-Autumn Festival in Singapore

Here are some ideas for this year's mid-autumn festivities.
PHOTO: Unsplash

 So, the Mid-Autumn Festival happens this Oct 1, which is the 15th day of the eighth month on the Lunar Calendar.

Despite the horrible ramifications of Covid-19, there are still some things worth looking forward to. A day filled with family, friends and laughter.

Yes, the Mid-Autumn Festival — a celebration to mark the end of the Autumn harvest.

The autumnal moon is believed to be the biggest and brightest than at any other time of year, and is traditionally associated with a bountiful harvest, thus this Chinese festival.

But what’s it all about, and what do all those mooncakes mean?

The legend behind the festival

PHOTO: Unsplash

The most popular Mid-Autumn Festival fable revolves around Chang’e, the Moon Goddess (pictured), and her husband Hou Yi.

When Yi’s adversary comes to their home to steal the elixir of immortality (which, by the way, Hou Yi earned by shooting down nine of ten suns in the sky, no biggie), Chang’e swallows it to prevent the elixir from falling into the wrong hands, and this makes her fly to the moon.

To remember her, Hou Yi and others started to worship the moon with many offerings.

Shine a little light

This is where lanterns come into the picture. They were commonly used during moon gazes on the night of the festival.

Traditional lanterns are made of thin paper; nowadays, you’ll find battery-powered plastic ones in the shape of cartoon characters like Hello Kitty and Superman, with music playing from it too.

Calling all singles!

The Mid-Autumn Festival was once considered the second Valentine’s Day in China.

Single people paid homage to “the old man in the moon”, whom they believed was a god who united people in marriage. 

The old customs of this festival are largely gone today, but if food is the way to a lover’s heart, then we reckon mooncakes are a pretty good idea.

But what is a mooncake?

A popular pastry during the festival, mooncakes typically consist of a thin pastry skin enveloping a dense filling. The skin is made of a combination of thick sugar syrup, lye water, flour and oil — giving it a rich, almost chewy texture.

The filling is usually made of a thick red bean or lotus seed paste. Some contain a salted egg yolk (or even two) in their center, symbolizing the full moon.

New flavours

And then we’ve got snowskin mooncakes. These are non-baked mooncakes that have a glutinous, mochi-like rice crust, with flavoured fillings that become more and more inventive by the year.

Think lychee martini, violette & gin, chocolate salted toffee and more.

It's all about the packaging

Some reports say that the average packaging of a mooncake — from a mini-chest of drawers that looks like an imperial jewellery box, to boxes with elegant oriental embosses — costs 50 per cent more than the mooncake itself.

The lavish packaging makes these great gifts for out-of-town guests visiting during the time, clients and colleagues at work, or even loved ones back home.

Watch the calories

We hate to be buzzkills, but a single baked mooncake contains about 1000 calories. That’s almost two McSpicys from McDonald’s.

Or three bowls of noodles at your favourite hawker centre. Or six avocados.

Not forgetting how they’re also high in sugar and oil content. Which is why mooncakes are best shared and paired with tea to balance out its richness.

Where to buy them

They can be found at various Mooncake Fairs in most shopping malls! Nearing the festive period, shopping malls like Takashimaya and TANGS dedicate an entire space filled with pop-up stores from the many bakeries in SG — selling Mid-Autumn Festival treats!

Since Covid has us all cooped at home at the moment, they’ve all gone virtual.

Check out the various malls for updates on their virtual mooncake fair!

In addition to shopping malls, mooncakes can also be found in luxury hotels. Artisan and mainstream bakeries — even Starbucks! — are also joining in the party nowadays!

More than just pastry

Mooncakes were also once used as a weapon in war. Sort of. China was ruled by the Mongols in the 13th and 14th Century — something the Chinese clearly weren’t too thrilled about.

Then general, Zhu Yuanzhang, conceived a plan smuggle secret messages hidden within the mooncakes to the populace, instructing them about starting a rebellion against the Mongols.

They succeeded, and the general eventually became the reigning Emperor of the Ming dynasty.

A photo handout. PHOTO: South China Morning Post