CULTURE & HERITAGE
PENANG STORIES
Mid-Autumn Festival in Penang

By early September onwards, Penang will be inundated with mooncakes, marking the forthcoming Mid-Autumn Festival during the third week of September and this year, 2015, it will fall on 27 September. This pretty festival will cause twinkling lanterns to be lit, tasty mooncakes filled with every imaginable and edible filling to be eaten, and spirits will be light, as well as playful. All of which that will transform pockets of Penang into a glowing, ethereal venue. Celebrated mainly by the Chinese community, this festival traditionally marks the completion of the harvest period in autumn when crops were bountiful. In Penang, this festival is also known as the Mooncake Festival.

Its History
Many, many moons ago, according to history, food was not in abundance in many places on Earth during spring when crops weren’t yet mature, fruits weren’t yet ripe, sources of protein were either skeletal or scarce and food that were stored for winter were running low. However, as spring fades into autumn, fruits ripened, the harvest was in and animals were fleshy. It became the period of time when food in all forms were, once again, in abundance. That was why, in most cultures around the world, autumn had always been the time for a festival or holiday that very much centred around food. And this tradition remains till today. The Mid-Autumn Festival, for the 21st century Chinese community is a form of thanksgiving, a symbolic gesture, for a good harvest reaped, making food available for the village for the winter months to come.



While in Penang…
Even though there are no four seasons in Penang, the celebrating of the Mid-Autumn Festival has been introduced by Chinese immigrants of generations ago and retained by current generations as a way to ennoble what their ancestors experienced in terms of food rationing in accordance to seasons and the joy of reaping what was sowed then harvested.

So, each year, on this one day when the moon is glorious and full, Penangites light lanterns as if to match its majestic illumination and eat mooncakes. As they do in Taiwan, China and elsewhere where large Chinese communities reside. The best place in Penang to join the night lantern walk is Penang Hill where it will afford you a gorgeous view of towns below and the bridge snaking in the distance.

Meanwhile, mooncakes will be sold as early as end of August in malls, hotels and most bakeries, restaurants, even pop-up stalls around the city. At these places, conveniently, are also where you can find lanterns for sale. Mooncakes have come a long way since its traditional lotus seed paste and salted egg yolk days. They are now filled with Belgian chocolate, prime standard ice cream, durian cream and even, at one point, parmesan cheese.

Innovation, it seems, is infinite when it comes to mooncakes. Nevertheless, each new unique filling serves to elevate the mooncake’s popularity among Penangites further, making the giving of mooncakes to family and friends a delightful practise filled with surprises.

Image credit: Thum Chia Chieh