The festival falls on the 15th day of the eight month on the lunar calendar, when the moon is at its fullest and brightest. The origins of the festival are at least 3,000 years old, and tied to the worship of the moon Goddess, Chang’e.
As the festival approaches, pastry shops and bakeries will start to display mooncakes, one of the main features of the festival. Why mooncakes? It’s said that rebels passed notes within them to organise an uprising that led to the establishment of the Ming Dynasty in China back in the 14th century.
Traditionally, the mooncake’s filling was made out of red bean paste, lotus seed paste, or salted duck egg yolk. But traditions evolve; these days more exotic flavours are available—think pandan leaves, durian, mocha, tiramisu or sambal chilli paste.
One twist in Malaysia, compared to mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, is that children parade round with colourful paper lanterns, many in the shape of animals. This has given rise to a popular local name for the celebration: the Lantern Festival.
This can lead to some confusion, as the name is most commonly associated with the final day of the Lunar New Year celebrations, at least outside Malaysia and Singapore.
On the festival evening, offerings of mooncakes, various meats, fruits and Chinese tea are made to deities and ancestors at the family altar. Beautifully lit lanterns are also hung as joss-sticks and red candles are lit. After prayers, there is feasting and children parade lit lanterns around the streets. Here they are sometimes joined by their non-Chinese friends in celebrating with lanterns. In Kuala Lumpur, the Thean Hou Temple is a popular place to see a procession.
Whether even the brightest moon of the year will be visible through the city’s light and air pollution is of course far from guaranteed.