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Chinese mooncakes

Mooncakes and More! Celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival!

The full moon is nearing and the harvest is ready! Millions of people across China have their mooncakes prepared, awaiting a night of family fun. Introduce your children to the Mid-Autumn Festival by sharing its ancient history and helping them complete a map activity and lantern riddles.


The Mid-Autumn Festival

Look to the sky–it’s almost a full moon! According to the Chinese lunar calendar, the 15th day of the 8th month of the year (which lands on September 24th in 2018) marks the second largest festival in China. The Mid-Autumn Festival, sometimes called the Mooncake Festival, has been bringing families together through multiple dynasties and for thousands of years. It’s a time for family togetherness and yummy eats.

With the largest population in the world, it’s no wonder regional celebrations take place across the country of China. Different regions might use different seasonings to spice a duck or sweeten a mooncake, but one thing can always be agreed upon: the Mooncake Festival is about reunion. Family and friends gather outside under the full harvest moon to share stories, solve riddles and eat mooncakes.

Mooncakes and Legends 

Whether yours is filled with a salted egg, lotus seed or red bean paste, mooncakes are an essential delicacy of the Mid-Autumn Festival. (That’s where the name Mooncake Festival comes from!) Customarily sold as a set of four, mooncakes are given to family, friends and business partners as a gesture of unity and togetherness. Each cake is typically round in shape to represent the bursting moon, and stamped with a Chinese symbol wishing “harmony” or “longevity.”

Legend has it, mooncakes were once a form of secret communication to unite the Han Chinese against the ruling Mongolians. Aware that the Mongols were not interested in eating these sweet snacks adored by the Chinese, underground leaders were able to distribute mooncakes throughout the region during the Mid-Autumn Festival with secret messages stuffed inside.

The Lady in the Moon

Many western cultures talk about the man on the moon, but Chinese folklore depicts a woman named Chang’e who lives there with a Jade Rabbit. Chang’e was married to a noble archer named Hou Yi who was ordered by the Emperor to shoot down 9 of the 10 suns that were blazing the earth. Upon successful completion, Hou Yi received an elixir that would make him live forever. However, Chang’e took the elixir first and floated up to the moon where she lives for eternity. This is one version of the legend and a fun reason for indulging in the moonlight during the Mooncake Festival.



1) Celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival

You don’t have to be in China to celebrate the festival! Many countries around the world, including Vietnam, Taiwan, and the United States, observe the Mooncake Festival. Here are a few easy steps to help you enjoy the party:

– Pick an outdoor area with a good view of the moon. Maybe a field, a hill or even your roof!
– Create your own version of a mooncake. Mooncakes can be very difficult to make and even people in China typically buy them from bakeries. What counts is that they represent unity to you and your family.
– Invite your family and friends to celebrate! Gather under the moon with your loved ones and mooncakes. Share family stories, think up tales about the moon and create your own unique tradition.

2) Lantern Riddles

Another fun part of the Mid-Autumn Festival is solving riddles. Beautiful paper lanterns are hung throughout China with riddles attached. These riddles can be so tough to solve that they say solving a riddle is like fighting a tiger. Instead of calling them lantern riddles they are known as lantern tigers. Here are a few riddles that have been translated to English. Share these with your family and see who can “fight the tiger.” (The answer to each riddle is posted at the bottom of the article.)

  1. What’s full of holes but still holds water?
  2. What do you call a rich fish?
  3. What building has the most stories?
  4. Which is faster, hot or cold?

3) Map Activity:

Take out your Little Passports world map, or find a globe or atlas. Can you and your little ones find these countries on the map?

  • China
  • Taiwan
  • Vietnam
  • Mongolia


4a) Bonus Questions:

  1. Sam and Sofia learned the history of dynasties in China. Can you name a few?
  2. What is another holiday widely celebrated in China?
  3. What is the official language of China? Which language is most widely spoken in Hong Kong?

4b) Bonus Answers

  1. Qing Dynasty, Ming Dynasty
  2. Chinese New Year! Remember, the Chinese holiday does not fall on January 1st. New Year’s Day is determined by the Chinese lunar calendar, not the Gregorian calendar, which we use in the USA.
  3. Mandarin is the official language of China while most people in Hong Kong and Guangzhou speak Cantonese.

 *Lantern Riddle Answers (#2 Above)

  1. A Sponge
  2. A Goldfish
  3. A Library
  4. Hot is faster; you can catch a cold