Singapore is a good place to experience the Mid-Autumn Festival, one of the most important and prettiest Chinese celebrations, thanks to colourful lantern parades, mooncakes galore and a variety of folk arts performances such as Chinese opera and puppetry.
This festival is second only to Chinese New Year as the most beautiful time of year to visit Singapore's Chinatown, the epicentre of the celebrations. In 2016, the festival runs from September 15, with a month-long programme of festivities.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is a traditional Chinese harvest celebration that dates back more than 3,000 years. Since this city-state has nary a square foot of farm land, the festivities have been adapted to accommodate what Singaporeans do know: shopping and eating! All month long the narrow streets of Chinatown will be filled with markets selling barbecued meats, pomelos (the Chinese word for this fruit sounds like “blessing”) and, of course, mooncakes.
These delicate little pastries are so inextricably linked to the celebration that it’s often called the Mooncake Festival. A traditional mooncake is stamped with the Chinese character for longevity, and filled with sweetened lotus seed paste and whole egg yolks to symbolise the full moon. It's said that mooncakes helped liberate Yuan China from Mongol rule; rebels organised an uprising by passing messages hidden in them.
As mooncakes are not easily made by amateur bakers, most people buy mooncakes to give to their friends and co-workers. While a simple mooncake filled with less expensive bean paste may cost as little as S$2 at a Chinese bakery, many of Singapore’s five-star hotels sell luxury mooncakes with fillings like strawberry and lime tequila truffle, or caramel macchiato. The price? S$69 and upwards for four pieces.
If you do have an opportunity to sample a mooncake, don’t make the mistake of biting into a whole one; mooncakes are intensely rich and meant to be eaten as a small slice with unsweetened Chinese tea.
The other sign that the Mid-Autumn Festival has arrived in Singapore is the lighting of thousands of vibrant Chinese lanterns that illuminate the city from Clarke Quay to Outram Park. The light-up officially begins with a street parade featuring traditional music, dragon dancers and floats; events like lantern-decorating contests, street bazaars and stage shows near the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple are then held throughout the month. Full event details should be available on the Chinatown Singapore website.
Of course, you don’t have to be in Singapore to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. Celebrations are also held across Vietnam -- Hoi An is a good place to be -- as well as parts of Malaysia, such as Kuala Lumpur.
By Tanya Procyshyn.
Last updated on 31st January, 2017.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.