When the harvest moon hangs over the Thai sky, the streets and san jao become bathed in red. During the eighth lunar month in the Chinese calendar, when the moon is at its fullest and brightest, families gather to give thanks and honour ancestors. They also share gifts of mooncakes, the revered round sweets the colour of threshed rice.
Some see mooncakes as symbols of the sacrifices once made to Chang E, the moon goddess of immortality, during the harvest season. According to another legend, when the Mongols ruled China, mooncakes were used to traffic secret messages between villages, helping the Han overthrow their rulers. In any case, the treats are now as indivisibly linked to autumn as are turning leaves in other parts of the world.
One of the most important festivals for Thai-Chinese communities, the celebration spans the country. In Bangkok, Yaowarat Road rattles with the noise of cultural activities. Down south, the old quarters of Phuket Town are the centre of attention. And, in Chiang Mai, the Pung Tao Gong temple near Warorot Market draws the crowds.
Still, the spirit of the Mooncake Festival shines brightest at home. This is a time for families to convene, pay their respects to the departed, and chow down on mooncakes: lotus, red bean, sesame, salted egg, and durian, the flavours as varied as the people enjoying them.