Sunday, September 30, 2012

Happy Mooncake Festival!

I am proud to be Filipino-Chinese.  One of the reasons being the traditions Filipino-Chinese families share.  While some (like the ge-lai for moms who just gave birth) are a challenge to follow through, most are fun and interesting.  One of my favorite Chinese traditions is eating misua during birthdays and the mooncake festival game.

Little Master eating misua with chopsticks! His dad is very proud :)

It seems like out little master is a fan of misua and the mooncake game too.  We usually play the mooncke dice game twice a year, one with each side of our families.  It's also wonderful that we get to celebrate the birthday of Ben's great grandfather on the same night we played with the Tans.

Anyway, since we are planning another round of the mooncake game with friends, I thought I'd refresh my memory on how it all started.  Thank you Wikipedia!

image taken from

The Mooncake Festival is celebrated every 15th of the 8th month of the Chinese Calendar.  This year, its exact date is today, Sept 30.  It is said to be the time of year when the moon is at it's fullest and brightest.  It's legend features the story of an immortal named Houyi and his wife Chang'e who were banished from the heavens to live here on Earth.  The other immortals were jealous of Houyi so they told lies about him to the Jade Emperor who believed and punished them.  Houyi became a skilled and famous archer here on Earth.  His skills were recognized by the Chinese Emperor Yao who asked Houyi to shoot down 9 of the 10 suns to keep the Earth from burning.  The Chinese Emperor rewarded Houyi with a pill that will grant him eternal life but advised him to fast and pray for a year before swallowing it.  Houyi hid the pill but his wife Chang'e found the pill, became curious and ate it.  Chang'e soon realized that the pill gave her an ability to fly and the strong winds carried her as far as the moon.  Some legends say Chang'e is alone there making another pill so she can come back to Earth while other say that a rabbit is helping her which is why the black spots of the moon are shaped as such.  Meanwhile, Houyi built himself a palace in the sun to be close to her.  This was said to be how the concept of Yin and Yang came about.  Once a year, on the night of the Lunar festival, Houyi visits his wife.  This is way the moon is exceptionally beautiful during this time.

Folk Tales also say that the mooncake festival also celebrates the rebellion of the Chinese against the Mongol rule under the Yuan Dynasty.  The Chinese were banned from meeting in groups and since they knew that the Mongols do not eat mooncake, they used them to spread the word among the rebels to attack on the 15th day of the 8th month.  The end of the Mongol rule became the start of the Ming Dynasty and the festival being celebrated throughout China.

As for the dice game itself, they were started 1500 years ago by imperial scholars wishing for luck in the upcoming exams.  Scholar ranks were given as titles depending on the prize you receive.  The highest winner is believe to receive good luck for one whole year.  Koxinga officers then adapted the game to entertain soldiers while Qing Dynasty records show that game became popular even to the Taiwanese folks.  Nowadays, you'll find the game being enjoyed not only by those of Taiwanese and Southern Fujian background, but all among overseas Chinese with origins from the Xiamen area.  The prizes have beloved from mooncake / flourcakes to more practical items such as toiletries and kitchen utensils.

The rules of the game are quite simple.  Aside from the prizes, all you need is  big bowl and 6 dice. The following are the rankings:

All 6 of the dices show 4 red dots - traditionally the person who throws this gets all of the prices, including the ones that have been won by others but in the recent games, most players opt to hand over only the first prize

For first prize, you have to throw:
a) five of a kind with the remaining die as the kicker (having 5 red four dots is the highest, the rest are rank according to numerical value)
b) four dice with 4 red dots with the remaining 2 dice as kicker

For the second prize (2 pcs)
a) straight dice - the six dice showing one of each number
b)  two set of trios - 2 sets of three dice of the same kind (expect with four dots)

For the third price (4pcs)
four of the same kind of die except the one with four dots

For the fourth price (8pcs)
three pcs of dice with four dots

For the fifth price (16pcs)
2 pcs of dice with four dots

For the sixth price (32pcs)
1 pc of die with 4 dots

Since this game is played annually as a tradition, an agreement must be set among players with regard to each person's contribution to the game.  In my side of the family, the winner gets to buy all of the prizes for next year's game.  In Bry's side of the family, the winner gets to sponsor the winning prize next year while every one chips in for the remaining prizes.  With our friends, our plan is to divide the costs of all the prizees equally among ourselves.

Happy Mooncake Festival, everyone!

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