One of the most important Chinese festivals is the Mid-Autumn Festival (aka Moon Festival or Moon Cake Festival among the English speakers). Chinese ancestors believed that the seventh, eighth, and ninth lunar months belong to autumn. So the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. In ancient times, people used to offer elaborately made cakes to the moon spirit on this day. After making this symbolic offering, a family would enjoy eating the cakes together. The festival eventually came to carry the idea of a happy family reunion and the custom has been passed down to this day. On this mid-autumn night, the full moon is especially bright. The whole family may sit together beneath the clear moonlight eating tasty moon cakes and appreciating the beauty of the fully rounded moon. Of course, those who are far away from their homes that night are only too easily reminded of their families when they look up at the luminous moon. The words of the great Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai are often recited on such evenings, even today: "I raise my head to gaze at the bright moon, and I drop my head to think of my old home."
There are many beautiful legends about the moon, the most popular one tells how a goddess named Chang'e ascended to the moon. A long, long time ago, a terrible drought plagued the earth. Ten suns burned fiercely in the sky like smoldering volcanoes. The trees and grass were scorched. The land was cracked and parched, and rivers ran dry. Many people died of hunger and thirst. The King of Heaven sent Hou Yi down to the earth to help. When Hou Yi arrived, he took out his red bow and white arrows and shot down nine suns one after another.
The weather immediately turned cooler. Heavy rains filled the rivers with fresh water and the grass and trees turned green. Life had been restored and humanity was saved. One day, a charming young woman, Chang'e makes her way home from a stream, holding a bamboo container. A young man comes forward, asking for a drink. When she sees the red bow and white arrows hanging from his belt, Chang'e realizes that he is their savior, Hou Yi. Inviting him to drink, Chang'e plucks a beautiful flower and gives it to him as a token of respect. Hou Yi, in turn, selects a beautiful silver fox fur as his gift for her. This meeting kindles the spark of their love.
And soon after that, they get married. In order to enjoy his happy life with Chang'e forever, Hou Yi decides to look for an elixir of life. He goes to the Kunlun Mountains where the Western Queen Mother lives. Out of respect for the good deeds that he has done, the Western Queen Mother rewards Hou Yi with elixir, a fine powder made from kernels of fruit which grows on the tree of eternity. At the same time, she tells him: If you and your wife share the elix ir, you will both enjoy eternal life. But if only one of you takes it, that one will ascend to Heaven and become immortal. Hou Yi returns home and tells his wife all that has happened and they decide to drink the elixir together on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month when the moon is full and bright.
A wicked and merciless man named Feng Meng secretly hears about their plan. He wishes Hou Yi an early death so that he can drink the elixir himeslf and become immortal. His opportunity finally arrives. One day, when the full moon is rising, Hou Yi is on his way home from hunting. Feng Meng kills him. The murderer then runs to Hou Yi's home and forces Chang'e to give him the elixir.
Without hesitating, Chang'e picks up the elixir and drinks it all. Overcome with grief, Chang'e rushes to her dead husband's side, weeping bitterly. Soon the elixir begins to have its effect and Chang'e feels herself being lifted towards Heaven. Chang'e decides to live on the moon because it is nearest to the earth. There she lives a simple and contented life. Even though she is in Heaven, her heart remains in the world of mortals. Never does she forget the deep love she has for Hou Yi and the love she feels for the people who have shared their sadness and happiness.