On September 15th of 2016, a traditional Chinese holiday called The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated. For the entire Chinese nation, it is a time to gaze at the moon and enjoy delicious moon cakes! For those studying Mandarin, it is also a great time to learn more about Chinese customs.
I have always been excited by how tight and sophisticated the ties between Chinese culture and Chinese language are! Origins of both traditions and words have similar roots; thus, comprehension of Chinese customs and habits makes Mandarin language a bit easier to study. On the other hand, basic knowledge of etymology definitely helps to understand why some habits and everyday life perceptions exist.
Mid-Autumn Festival has distinctive traditions. How does language reflect them? What can the etymology of Chinese characters tell us about their deep roots? Let’s see…
Secret of the name
“Mid-Autumn Festival” is the straight-forward translation of the Chinese name of the festival: 中秋节.
The ancient written form of 中 is in the shape of a flagpole in the center of a circle.
In the fall, the Ancient Chinese would burn the fields so that they could kill the locust eggs. This prevented swarms of locust from eating the next year’s crops. So fall 秋 consists of grain 禾 and fire 火. It is logical, isn’t it?
Famous Traditions: Moon Gazing and Family Reunion
The ancient written form of this character is like a crescent. Later, the character stands for a time unit of 30 days and thus there are 12 months in a year.
The full moon is traditionally a symbol for family reunion家团圆 (jiā tuán yuán). This concept is still crucial for Chinese people. Celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival by coming together as families to eat, drink, and be merry is not uncommon.
During Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations, Chinese people often dance.
#7: “舞” – to dance
The ancient form of 果 is like fruit growing from the tree.
The ancient form of 食 is in the shape of a human mouth near a food container.
Chinese cuisine is fantastic, so you definitely need this character in everyday life, too – not only during the Mid-Autumn Festival!