Penang Mid Autumn Festivals

The Mid Autumn Festivals
One of the brightly lit celebrations in the Chinese calendar will be Mid-Autumn or Mooncake festivals. The celebrations fall on the 15th day of the 8 lunar month in the Chinese calendar. It is one of the major Chinese festivals not only in Penang but throughout Malaysia.

Here, the Chinese celebrate the festival with family gatherings, prayers to deities and ancestors, serving of mooncakes and the lighting of lanterns. Gifts of mooncakes, in different varieties, are presented to family and friends. Various state governments organize numerous lantern competition and processions in a grand scale during this period.

This festival was traditionally celebrated to signify the end of the harvest season. Some part of Malaysia referred the celebration as lantern festivals because lanterns are used extensively during the festivities.

Among many Chinese, the lantern festival is also fondly remembered for the tang yuan (or tong yuen in Cantonese). In the popular local version, tang yuan consists of glutinous rice balls colored brightly and poached in sweet ginger flavored syrup - a truly scrumptious experience! Traditionally, tong yuan sometimes contains a filling of sesame, peanuts, vegetable, or meat, cooked in red-bean or other kinds of soup. Whether traditional or localized, sweet or savory, the round shape of the tang yuan ball symbolizes wholeness and unity.

Story behind Mid Autumn festival
The myth and legend behind the Mid Autumn festival starts when a woman called Chang E, in her quest for immortality, drank her husband's share of a rare and precious elixir. By doing so, she became immortal and starts to floats towards heaven. During her journey, she was very worried that god will reprimanded her due to her selfish misdeed. Therefore, Chang E makes an unscheduled stop on the moon. Upon arrival, she found the place to be desolate except for a hare under a cassia tree. At this time, her immortal power had abandoned her and she was doomed to keep her lonely vigil till the end of time. Till today, Chang E ascension to the moon has been fondly associated with the mooncake festivals.

However, the story took a different turn from religious point of view. According to them, Mid-Autumn festival is a time when people make offerings of prayer, mooncakes, roasted meat, yam, kuaci (water melon seeds) and Chinese tea to deities and ancestors in return for their blessing.

The mooncake has also earned a place in Chinese history for playing a key role in overthrowing the Mongols during the Soong dynasty. According to legend, secret message hidden in the mooncakes stated a rebellion within the Mongols which eventually led to the fall of the Mongolian empire.

Mid Autumn festival in Penang
In Penang, shops will be busy few days or even weeks before the festivals starts. You can see shop owner busy assembling lanterns out of colored cellophane paper (mostly red and yellow, for these are auspicious colors), wire and paint. The lanterns come from different size and shape such as rabbits, car, space rocket, moon or even superman. All the lanterns are hung outside the shop with the colorful barber poles, beckoning all to come, see and buy.

At homes, the hangings of lantern were really grand and opulent things! During nightfall's, young children start to wait eagerly for their parent to bring to them a newly bought lantern. When it is ready, they will start to walk around the garden holding a lantern which makes them looks like a little treasure hunters.

I remember when I was a kid; my mother received a large octagonal lantern from wealthy relative. This lantern was made from red cellophane paper wrapped tightly around a hexagonal bamboo frame and decorated with brightly colored ribbons, trimmings and tassels on the outside. Inside, you can see an auspicious figures from Chinese mythology, made from paper and are stuck to the spokes of a wheel-like contraption. This wheel was balanced on a pointed tip resting on a metal thrust pad. When the candles inside the lantern are lit, the heat from the flame would waft through the wheel and cause it to spin round and round on an axis much like a carousel. When this happen, figures cast moving shadows on the wall as they spun! The experience was unforgettable and indeed -- Fun!