The Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations date back to more than 2,000 years ago. In feudal times, Chinese emperors prayed to Heaven for a prosperous year. They chose the morning of the 15th day of the second lunar month to worship the sun and the night of the 15th day of the eighth lunar month to hold a ceremony in praise of the moon. In the western district of Beijing is the Yuetan Park, which originally was the Temple of Moon, and every year the emperor would go there to offer a sacrifice to the moon.
This ancient custom became prevalent in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) that people enjoyed and worshipped the full moon. In the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), however, people sent round moon cakes to their relatives as gifts in expression of their best wishes of family reunion. When it turned dark, they gazed up at the full silver moon or went sightseeing by lakes, to celebrate the festival.
Since the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties (1644-1911), the custom of Mid-Autumn Festival celebration has become unprecedentedly popular. Together with the celebration appeared some special customs in different parts of the country, such as burning incense, planting Mid-Autumn trees, lighting lanterns on towers and fire dragon dances, etc. Whenever the festival sets in, people would look up at the full silver moon, drinking wine to celebrate their happy life, or thinking of their relatives and friends far from home and extending all of their best wishes to them.
In mid-autumn, farmers have just finished gathering their crops and bringing in fruits from the orchards. They are overwhelmed with joy when they have a bumper harvest and at the same time, they feel quite relaxed after a year of hard work. So the 15th day of the eighth lunar month (the Mid-Autumn Festival) has gradually evolved as a widely celebrated festival for ordinary
Traditionally the Mid-Autumn Festival, a harvest- and moon-worship festival, meant terrible congestion in Beijing. This is because everyone is trying to deliver boxes of "moon cakes" to show their respect and express their good wishes to their friends, families and work relations. The roundness of the cakes represents completeness and unity.
Over the years, "moon cakes" have become the epitome of the Mid-Autumn Festival. In Chinatowns all over the world, Chinese bakeries will start to dole out tins and special boxes of these round pastries. Just walk into a Taipan Bakery in New York City's Chinatown or Flushing and you can see piles of these cakes.
These moon cakes can either be bought or hand made. Once upon a time I even used to help my granny make moon cakes.