The Chinese Mooncake Festival is actually called the Mid-Autumn Festival in China.
But since Malaysia is situated in the equator, there is no autumn season. Hence this Chinese festival in Pahang and Malaysia, is more popularly known as Mooncake Festival rather than Mid-Autumn Festival.
This festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. It usually co-incides with the autumn equinoxe, when the full moon is shining at its brightest in the sky.
And in the Malaysian state of Pahang, it is celebrated with sumptuous dinners and entertainment by the Chinese community.
In fact this festival is regarded among the Chinese community here as the second most important festival in the Chinese calendar, next to the Chinese New Year celebration.
Since lanterns play an important role in the Mooncake Festival, this festival is also known as the Lantern Festival or locally as Tanglung Festival. We can see rows of lanterns, candle-lighted as well as the modern electrically lighted ones, hung in front of Chinese homes, and on trees in the house compounds.
Children will be seen walking and running joyfully around the neighborhood with many shapes, designs and forms of normally red-colored lanterns. Butterfly, fish, dragon and other animal – shaped lanterns including the latest cartoon characters are carried, besides the colorful traditional paper-lanterns designs.
To the Chinese, the bright lanterns signify that their lives will always be bright, full of lights and good hopes for the future.
It is said that the Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated to signify the end of the harvest season.
Also believed is that the Mooncake or Mid-autumn festival has its origins in 14th Century China when a rebellion was successfully staged against a Mongol ruler.
The Chinese rebels slipped their secret plots and strategies inside mooncakes during the Mid-Autumn Festival and successfully defeated the Mongol emperor.
The festival serves to remember the joys of the successful revolt and the use of mooncakes to achieve it.
Mooncakes are mostly round like the full moon with a smooth texture, and is gaily decorated nowadays.
For the Chinese, the round shape of the mooncake, with its smooth texture signifies family unity, blessings of prosperity and abundance of love.
Mooncakes, of course, are a must during the Mooncake festival - hence the name, and this is the time of year when Chinese bakeries in Pahang focus their production mainly on moon cakes, always coming out with new and creative packaging.
Mooncakes come in many tastes as well.
In the old days, I remember it comes with a lotus seed paste and black beans or peas only.
Nowadays, the paste of the mooncakes are made from various ingredients including low sugar white lotus paste for the diet-conscious, and cheese, black sesame, red dates, chocolate, tiramisu and even ginseng.
There are even jelly mooncakes filled with modern fruit pastes as well as the traditional lotus seed and black bean pastes.
A typical mooncake, such as the green tea lotus and longan plus red dates mooncake, will usually have as its ingredients the lotus seed, melon seed, green tea powder, longan, dates, peanut oil, flour, water, permitted coloring and flavoring.
And in Malaysia, being a multi-racial society, there are now halal mooncakes that can be eaten by Muslims that look and taste like other Chinese mooncakes.
And the mooncakes are now wrapped and contained in colorful, decorative boxes and attractive packaging as they are nowadays normally offered as gifts. In fact weeks before the festival, Chinese families would present gifts of mooncakes to their relatives and friends. This is a way to further strengthen their familial bonds and ties of friendship.
Made about the size of a man’s palm (about 10 cm in diameter), the mooncake denotes that a person’s future is in his own hands, and he can achieve what he really aspires for.
Although palm-sized, the thickness of the mooncakes vary and can be up to five centimeters. The traditional mooncakes usually has a rather thick and hard center which contains the yolk of a duck’s egg.
On its smooth surface is written Chinese words, wishing and blessing the person, such as longevity, happiness and harmony.
The mooncake, being an expensive delicacy, is taken in small portions and drank with Chinese tea.
On Mooncake Festival day, Chinese families place foods such as mooncakes, fried chicken, roasted meat, yams, melon seeds, oranges, and Chinese tea on the home altar as offerings and extend prayers to their ancestors and spirits.
It is also customary for the Chinese to light joss-sticks and red candles, and also burn joss-papers during the prayers.
Besides prayers, and visiting relatives, the Chinese family will celebrate the Mooncake Festival by watching or observing the moon, and walking under the moonlit night with lanterns, all the while munching the spread of mooncakes, mandarin oranges, and peanuts.
In Pahang, especially in Kuantan and in the main towns, the Chinese community will take the opportunity to watch the moon at the seaside and river banks, and celebrate with friends and relatives.
This Mooncake Festival is also a time for close relatives to visit and enjoy dinner together and extend closer relationships with one another.
Nowadays I enjoy watching the little children carrying the tanglung (lantern)and chasing one another or walking in a line, with the lantern lights flickering in the darkness.
When the yearning comes, I sometimes would ask one of the children to let me hold and play his lantern for a while.
It brings back memories of the days when, decades ago as a small child, I would join my Chinese neighbour friends frolicking with the tanglung.
We played until the candles stopped burning.. Ahh, sweet memories of younger times...
In fact I feel young again whenever I hold the tanglung. Maybe it’s the joy of playing with fire, or having light when surrounded by darkness.
So, whenever you come to Pahang during the middle of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar, don’t be scared when you see lights flickering and moving in the darkness, because those are children carrying their paper lanterns (tanglung) and having fun.
Enjoy yourself too, and try carrying the tanglung. But do take care if it’s a lighted candle. (There are battery-powered lights now, but small red candles are still in favor!)
Well, so much for the Mooncake Festival and sweet memories of tanglungs and joys of my younger days. And of one of the many delightful festivals and celebrations in Pahang.
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As always, from me...