For example, there's the Mooncake Festival. Since it'll be celebrated on September 15 this year, we figured talking about it will help you gain even more insight into Filipino culture — specifically, Filipino-Chinese culture. If you want to get into the spirit of the celebration, here's what you need to know about the festival.
The Mooncake Festival Has Many Names
In other countries, it's also called the "Mid-Autumn Festival," the "Moon Festival" and the "Reunion Festival," to name a few. But since there's no autumn in the Philippines, and the festival is best known for encouraging the exchange of mooncakes, it makes the most sense to call it the "Mooncake Festival" as far as Filipinos are concerned.
The Festival is Shrouded in Legend
Many legends are used to explain the origins of the Moon Festival, the most famous of which is the story of Chang'e and Houyi. Chang'e was the Moon Goddess of Immortality, while Houyi was a master archer. They fell in love, and lived happily for a time as husband and wife.
One day, when the ten suns rose up in the sky all at the same time, disaster fell on the land. Houyi shot down nine of them, and left the tenth to give light to the earth. As a reward for his deed, the people made him king.
However, Houyi soon became mad with power. He treated his subjects cruelly, and asked for an elixir of immortality from the goddess Xiwangmu, so that he may reign for a long time. Fearing for the people, Chang'e stole the elixir and flew away to the moon.
When Houyi found out, he became so angry that he started shooting at his wife as she fled. Fortunately, none of the arrows hit her, and Houyi soon died afterwards of grief and anger. Grateful, the people sacrificed to Chang'e every fifteenth of the eighth month of the Chinese calendar to commemorate what she'd done for them.
Lanterns, Dragons and Floats, Oh My!
No one really knows why lanterns are so closely associated with the Mooncake Festival. All we know is that no mid-autumn celebration is complete without them, and the Philippines is no exception.
If you stroll through the Binondo district around Sept. 15, for example, you can see business establishments lined with lanterns and streamers. People would also dress in traditional Chinese clothes the night before the festival, and walk through the streets holding their lanterns.
Aside from the lantern parade, there's also the obligatory dragon/lion dance, as well as a float honoring Chang'e. You can watch all of these come alive when you visit Binondo on the 15th. Just make sure to keep your valuables safe from the crowd!
Can't Do Without 'Em Mooncakes
Obviously, the Mooncake Festival won't be complete without, well, mooncakes. These pastries are usually round, and they symbolize unity and completeness between family members and friends. The traditional versions usually have the Chinese characters for "harmony" or "longevity" printed on them.
You can buy and give mooncakes to others, but you're not supposed to buy them for yourself. You can also make mooncakes at home, or buy them from one of these groceries in Metro Manila. And if you're feeling adventurous, you can even take a cue from what Eng Bee Tin did in 2013, and create a record-breaking mooncake!
Can't Do Without "Pua Tiong Chiu" Too
Now this is one tradition unique to Filipino-Chinese. It involves six dice and a bowl, and the reward for the winner is the largest slice of mooncake. The object of the game is to roll either four "fours," or have at least five of the dice come out with the same face.
It's said that "pua toing chiu" originated from the Fujian province in China. Since that's the province where most Filipino-Chinese come from, it makes sense that the game flourished here in the Philippines. Also, the name is Hokkien (a Chinese dialect) for "mid-autumn gambling," which is pretty descriptive if unimaginative.
At any rate, you might want to try this game for yourself. Who knows, perhaps Chang'e herself might align the lucky stars in your favor!
The Mooncake Festival Coincides With Christmas Season
"But wait," you say, "isn't Christmas season in December?" Actually, in the Philippines, Christmas is celebrated as soon as the "ber" months hit. It's not unusual to see mooncake festival presents, Halloween paraphernalia and candles for the dead sold side-by-side with Christmas balls and tinsels. Hey, the Philippines is a country of mixed cultures, after all!
If you're visiting the Philippines around the 15th, why not stop and celebrate the mooncake festival with your local community? As the Chinese would say in Mandarin, "Zhong qiu kuai le!" (Happy Mid-Autumn festival!).