We are all familiar with eating mooncakes as a way to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. But what is less known, or often forsaken, is the traditional customs used to mark the occasion, such as bringing family members together to appreciate the beauty of the moon, which should be at its most bright and round.
When I was a child, my family would gather under the moonlight in the courtyard or balcony to have snacks, mooncakes and tea, chatting and watching the moon. My favorite part was listening to my mom tell the story of the beautiful lady and the rabbit who lived on the moon.
This year’s Mid-Autumn Festival falls on Thursday, September 19. If you happen to be staying in Beijing during the holiday, we’ve selected some of the most well-known and traditional places in the city for your family to enjoy this authentically Chinese celebration. You may also even want to bring a pen and paper, in case the festival provides your children with inspiration for a drawing.
Lugou Bridge 卢沟晓月
Located at the southwest of Beijing’s Fengtai District, Lugou bridge became well-known for its poetic name Lugouxiaoyue (The Moon over Lugou Bridge at Dawn 卢沟晓月) given by Emperor Zhangzong of the Jin Dynasty after he saw the full moon reflected on the Yongding River. Emperor Qianlong then adopted the title and inscribed it upon a stone tablet during the Qing Dynasty, which further spread its fame. The 266-meter-long stone bridge also serves as one of many extraordinary works of architecture in the capital. Shaped like a rainbow, the bridge has 11 arched gates, four Chinese pillars and 485 carved lions placed atop columns. Every Mid-Autumn Day, special festivities such as lantern fairs would take place by the bridge to celebrate its history.
You can’t have a perfect view of the moon without water and Shichahai Lake is in one of the oldest lake areas in Beijing. The Yinding Bridge that looms across it is high enough to admire the view of the moon and its reflection on the placid surface. Shichahai has its own beauty and is comparable to Hangzhou’s West Lake and Nanjing’s Qinghuai River. If you want to paddle a boat on the lake on a Mid-autumn Day with mooncakes and tea, it’s advised to book in advance (8322 3344). Shichahai consists of three lakes- Qianhai, Xihai and Houhai- in the north of central Beijing.
Yuetan Park(Temple of the Moon) 月坛
Built in 1530, Yutan Park was where Ming and Qing emperors used to worship the moon at the Mid-Autumn Day. The park has two gardens with beautiful plants and ancient architecture. To celebrate the festival, the park holds various activities and ceremonies each year to promote moon culture. This year, the event will feature lantern riddles, a mooncake display and a child-friendly exhibition of Lord Rabbit figurines (or Tu’er Ye in Chinese), which is considered to be the mascot of the Mid-Autumn Festival.
The Summer Palace 颐和园
Besides watching the moon, it is also a tradition for local Beijingers to go to the Summer Palace to see the osmanthus flowers during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Families and friends can take a walk amidst the sweet fragrances of ancient trees or take a boat ride along the lakes to enjoy the scenery. Admission to the park stops at 6pm and it closes at 8pm.
Photos: blog.absolutechinatours.com and beijing.china.org.cn