All these legends are just as popular today as ever, only that now they are regarded as fairy tales, the stuff dreams are made of. People no longer make
offerings to the moon, but the myths and legends are often taken as themes for children’s picture stories and dance dramas.
The Moon Festival is a family event. The moon at its fullest and roundest symbolizes the complete circle of the family. Every member of the family, the
oldest to the youngest, is part of that circle. It is therefore essential that everyone be present regardless of how far from home he lives.
The Moon Festival today provides a welcome opportunity for people to sit outside, enjoy the company of friends and relatives, watch the moon and eat moon
cakes. These are a favourite delicacy among Chinese and are on sale the month preceding the festival. Here in Mauritius, moon cakes were traditionally home-made. It is unfortunate that today most people have lost
the art of making them and have to buy moon cakes from shops and restaurants instead. These are moon-shaped pastries enriched with a variety of fillings: bean-paste, egg yolks, crushed lotus seeds and nuts. It is
customary for employers to give either moon cakes or ‘hong bao’, red envelopes with money inside, to their employees. Students honour their teachers with gifts of moon cakes.
The folklore surrounding these pastries is rich with historical allusions. According to a popular version, the mooncakes originated in China in the 14th
century when the Mongolian invaders were lording it over the country. As there was no way for the people to pass on messages and coordinate their efforts to overthrow the foreign rulers, they hit upon the ingenious
idea of distributing, on the occasion of the Mid Autumn festival, mooncakes in which printed messages were concealed inciting the populace to rise and ‘kill the Dazi (Tartars)’. On breaking their cakes, everyone got
the message and eventually did unite to defeat the enemy. Again around the time of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion, messages bearing the message ‘kill the foreigners’ were placed in the cakes to incite the people to rise
against their oppressors.
Another interesting feature of the festival in Mauritius is the ‘choy lam chee’ (‘the spirit of the basket’). Many Chinese believe that during the short
period preceding and succeeding the Mid Autumn Festival, all the spirits in heaven are let loose to roam about free~y. Parents would urge their children not to venture out to places where they might be overcome by
the spirits who might wish to harm them. Mauritian Chinese would not bathe in the sea for fear of drowning. These spirits can be called to predict one’s fortune. Their presence can be invoked by lighting a stick of
incense. Many Chinese invoke them using a basket that tilts. The tilting of the basket is the medium through which the particular spirit present conveys its messages to those in the world of the living. Although
this spirit-invoking practice is not uncommon during the Mid Autumn festival period, many Chinese prefer to keep away lest the spirits turn out to be wicked ones.
This time of the year the full orange moon presides over all of China’s balmy evenings, and reigns in the sky like a queen. Magic is the moonlight and like a subtle fragrance, the Moon
Festival’s romance steals into the heart of young and old alike linking man and the universe in close communion. The moonlight magic, however, is only part of the Moon Festival’s romance. More important for the
Chinese is the awareness of family solidarity, of cultural belonging and identity which is renewed each year