The Mid-Autumn Festival

Today is the Mid-Autumn Festival! And even though I just arrived to Spain for my 2 week holidays, I scheduled this post in advance to share some facts about the festivity.

Traditionally, the lunar calendar was used in China, instead of the solar calendar. That explains why today, September 27th, it is the “mid” autumn festival: according to the lunar calendar, the autumn season starts in August.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is always celebrated on a full moon night and the tradition says you have to look at the moon and eat mooncakes (月饼 yuebing). Since 2008 it is a national holiday (which means no work! yay!) but this year it fell on a Sunday (oooh!).

There are several legends which are supposed to be the basis for the moon-watching habits of this day. They differ on the details so let’s keep with the basics: there was a woman called Chang’E who drank an immortality elixir and flew to the moon, where she had to set residency. Other stories say that there is a rabbit living with her on the moon and the rabbit silhouette can be seen if you carefully look at the full moon. You can read a couple of the legends in Wikipedia, but they don’t mention the rabbit.

What would a holiday be without a commercial part? The traditional gift for the Mid-Autumn Festival are mooncakes, and thousands of tons are sold and gifted during the weeks before the holiday.

A not so traditional mooncake I tried once. I was told it was a Yunnan specialty.

Mooncakes are round pastries of different sizes and quite thick. The filling can be anything from red bean paste to meat, including egg yolk and nuts. They are a calorie bomb! I checked a 10 cm diameter mooncake and it had 1,000 calories!! (That is basically half of all the calories you should eat in a day). If you eat a mooncake without having a glass of water close you can be in great danger of dying, as they are super dry and can easily stick in your mouth and throat. The truth is that almost no one likes eating mooncakes, but it is a social obligation to buy them and gift them. Particularly for companies, who buy boxes of mooncakes to give to their clients and employees.

During the previous weeks, China is flooded with these pastries and it is actually very difficult to not receive one. However, as I said before, no one really enjoys them and many of them end up in the trash. What a waste!

One of the regular mooncakes no one really is a big fan of.

But Chinese people have the perfect solution for this. A few years ago, companies started giving mooncake coupons instead of giving the actual box with mooncakes. So the customers/employees would need to go to the bakery selling those particular mooncakes to pick them for free using the coupon. And as many people are not interested in the mooncakes, a new species of “recycler” appeared on the streets: they will stand on busy roads with a sign that says “Recycle mooncake coupons here”. I will explain each step of this recycling process, which C. explained to me:

  1. Bakery A prints coupons to swap for mooncake boxes. This coupons are valued at 100 RMB and they sell them to Company B for 85 RMB.
  2. Company B is very happy that they got 100 RMB value for only 85. They give the coupons to their clients.
  3. Mister C is a client of Company B and he got the mooncakes coupon. He doesn’t want the mooncakes so he sells the coupon to the recycler for 40 RMB.
  4. The recycler resells the coupons to Bakery A for 50 RMB.

So: no mooncake needed to be manufactured. Bakery A earned 35 RMB per coupon; Company B had a nice gesture with their clients; Mister C earned 40 RMB and the recycler earned 10 RMB. Everybody is happy and not even a gram of flour was wasted!

This year, I have received a box of 8 regular mooncakes. C. received a coupon for Haagen Dazs mooncakes, which are the most precious treasure someone can ever get: it is said that they are very good! (And are probably the only mooncakes people would queue for, except for the meat mooncakes, which are also good but can be eaten all year round). So we went to pick our very expensive mooncakes (valued at 400 RMB) and this was the line to pick them:

Absolutely crazy!!

Absolutely crazy!! You couldn’t even see the end!!

I was scared they would run out of mooncakes by the time we reached the beginning of the line, but they were well prepared and that didn’t happen. However, it seems we had not looked carefully at our coupon as what we got were not the normal Haagen Dazs mooncakes, but some special ice cream that they only manufacture for Mid-Autumn Festival.

On the left, the normal Haagen Dazs mooncakes everybody raves about.

On the left, the normal Haagen Dazs mooncakes everybody raves about.

The ice cream sandwich we got (a box of 6). It was very good!

The ice cream sandwich we got (a box of 6). It was very good!


Happy Mid-Autumn Festival to you all! Did you celebrate it?