Like many Chinese festivals, the Mid-Autumn Festival originated from a legend. This particular festival celebrates the beautiful yet sad story of Chang E, the Moon Lady. Although there are many versions of this legend, the most common one is as follows:
Long, long ago, 10 suns rose in the sky and they scorched all the crops, leaving people in extreme poverty. A hero named Hou Yi shot down nine of the suns, saving the Earth from the destructive heat.
Heavenly Empress Wangmu rewarded him with a vial of elixir that would make a person immortal and allow life in the Heavens.
Hou Yi’s wife, Chang E, was known for her beauty and kind heart. Out of his deep love for her, Hou Yi gave the elixir to Chang E for safe-keeping until they could share it when he returned from hunting.
An evil man, Peng Meng, spied this through the window. Three days later, when Hou Yi left to hunt, Peng broke in with sword in hand, planning to force Chang E into giving him the elixir.
Chang E quickly put the vial to her mouth and swallowed all its contents. As soon as she had swallowed the elixir, she floated off the ground. She dashed out of the window and flew toward the moon.
When Hou Yi returned home that night, he learned from the maidservants what had happened. Tearfully, he looked up into the night sky and called out the name of his beloved wife.
At that moment, the moon became especially clear and bright. Hou Yi saw a shadow of his wife who was looking down at him, also in grief.
Hou Yi set up an altar with incense in the garden. On the altar, he put the sweet cakes and fresh fruits that Chang E enjoyed most. Then, he held a memorial ceremony for his wife in the moon. It was the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar year.
The news that Chang E had turned into a celestial being and was living in the moon spread fast. Many people arranged altars with incense in the moonlight and prayed for the kind-hearted Chang E, the Moon Lady, to look after them.
The custom of worshiping the moon then spread
among the people, and was celebrated on the same day each year.