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Ever wonder about autumn elsewhere? Four cultural festivals in September

by Margaret Manalo

Published: September 24, 2014

As September welcomes the change in season, a handful of festivals around the world celebrate the events accompanying the transition to autumn. September includes the festivities of three occasions similar to America’s Thanksgiving Day, in appreciation of the year’s harvest: South Korea’s Harvest Festival Chuseok, China’s Mid-Autumn Moon Festival Chung-ch'iu, as well as Vietnam’s Mid-Autumn Moon Festival Tet Trung Thu. All three are celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Lunar Calendar. On September 22, Mexico celebrates the Chichén Itzá Festival by observing the autumnal equinox. Take this quiz to explore each festival’s background and traditions!


1. Chuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving Day, lasts for a time period of how many days?

A. one
B. two
C. three
D. four

2. What other ingredient is added in the steamer with the special rice cakes made for Chuseok?

A. maple leaves
B. pine needles
C. flower petals
D. chestnuts

3. The gangangsulae dance is performed on Chuseok for what purpose?

A. to recreate a historical event
B. to pray for another year of good harvest
C. to entertain the children
D. to honor ancestors

4. Which celestial body’s goddess folklore is celebrated during the Chinese Mid-Autumn Moon Festival called Chung-ch'iu?

A. sun
B. moon
C. star
D. comet

5. True or False: The fable behind the Chinese Mid-Autumn Moon festival about expert archer Hou Yi holds some historic truth.

A. True
B. False

6. Alongside the moon cake’s traditional significance in China, what was stuffed into the rice treat during the Yuan dynasty as historical importance?

A. statuettes
B. small toys
C. money
D. secret messages

7. For whom is the Vietnamese Moon Festival most focused upon?

A. children
B. parents
C. grandparents
D. ancestors

8. One of the most well-known legends associated with the Vietnamese Moon Festival is associated with what sacred item?

A. flower
B. tree
C. statue
D. shrine

9. True or False: There is a way to tell whether a moon cake has been perfectly made.

A. True
B. False

10. What astronomical phenomenon occurs during the Chichén Itzá Festival’s equinox?

A. a flurry of shooting stars
B. complete darkness
C. balance of lightness and darkness
D. perfect alignment of the planets

11. What image is projected upon the Temple of Kukulcán pyramid at the city of Chichén Itzá in Mexico?

A. star
B. rainbow
C. eagle
D. snake

11. From what time period were the earliest archaeological remains found at Chichén Itzá?

A. 1st century
B. 2nd century
C. 3rd century
D. 4th century




1. [C] three
As one of the most important and festive holidays in the year for South Korea, Chuseok is celebrated for three days to include the day before and after the actual holiday. In 2013, the date of the actual holiday was on 19th of September and for 2014 the date falls on the 8th of September. Proper celebration is so involved, the largest traffic jams occur due to the commute reaching to the provinces outside Seoul, the capital city. Families travel back to their ancestral hometowns for grand and respectful reunions. Chuseok is also known as Hangawi, which means the 15th day of August, in accordance to the lunar calendar. A full harvest moon appears on this day and families gather to enjoy time together and thank ancestors for the bountiful harvest.

Sohn, A. (2013, September 5). Chuseok: Korean Thanksgiving Day. Retrieved August 29, 2014, from

2. [B] pine needles
Rice cakes are always a special treat in South Korea, but a particular kind called songpyeon is made for Chuseok. This certain rice cake is made with finely ground new rice. The dough is carefully kneaded into small, round shapes. Then it is filled with a variety of ingredients, such as sesame seeds, chestnuts, red beans, and more. The songpyeon rice cakes are arranged upon layers of pine needles and then steamed, creating a delicate and fresh fragrance of autumn that fills the home. Family members gather together and make songpyeon together for Chuseok, emphasizing the importance of family in Korean culture.

Sohn, A. (2013, September 5). Chuseok: Korean Thanksgiving Day. Retrieved August 29, 2014, from

3. [A] to recreate a historical event
Originally, the gangangsulae is performed by groups of women to recreate a historical event in 1592. During that time of the Japanese invasion, groups of women dressed as warriors and danced around the mountains to create the intimidating illusion of a larger Korean army. The modernized dance of the gangangsulae involves the women joining hands in a circle with upbeat enthusiasm.

Asia Society Kids. (2009, January 1). Retrieved September 2, 2014, from

4. [B] moon
The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is very fable centered with many versions, but one similar concept. Back in the ancient times of China, there existed ten suns. The burning rays of the multiple suns shone so bright that no crops could survive and thus made the people starve. Hou Yi, an extremely skilled archer, rose to the challenge and shot down the suns one by one. Yet before he could eliminate the last sun, his wife Chang'e stopped him and explained that one sun must be left to allow plants and the people to prosper. Suffering across the land ended and Hou Yi was crowned king. Unfortunately, Hou Yi’s ruling turned tyrannical. He feared death and became obsessed with immortality, seeking a witch doctor who concocted a special elixir to allow him eternal life. Chang'e was in dismay and worried about the well-being of the people. At nighttime, she sneaked to where Hou Yi hid the elixir, but he awakened! Acting in the urgency of the moment, Chang'e swallowed the elixir and suddenly began to fly up into the skies until she reached the full moon – where she remains today, resembling a pure, shining example of personal sacrifice for a greater purpose.

Chiu, L. (2014, January 1). The Mid-Autumn Festival Marks Seasons Change and Ancient Fables. Retrieved September 2, 2014, from

5. [A] True
Despite the enchanting tale of Hou Yi and Chang'e, some truth to their story has been found on Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 9 CE) tomb murals – depictions of Hou Yi shooting down the suns. The fable conveys the danger of gaining power and the heroism of great sacrifice. Professor Sarah Allan, a professor at Dartmouth College, wrote The Shape of the Turtle: Myth, Art and Cosmos in Early China (1991) and shares that the myth of the ten suns was a strong belief during the Shang Dynasty (1600 BCE – 1046 BCE). In her book, Allan hypothesizes that the Shang Kingdom’s ruling group was organized in a totemic relationship with the ten suns, and became synonymous with the ruling. When the Shang Kingdom fell into the rule of the Zhou dynasty (1046 BCE – 771 BCE), the archer myth of Hou Yi was used to illustrate an end to Shang rule.

Chiu, L. (2014, January 1). The Mid-Autumn Festival Marks Seasons Change and Ancient Fables. Retrieved September 2, 2014, from

6. [D] secret messages
Traditionally, the moon cake is filled with an array of ingredients such as fruit, nuts, ham, pumpkin, and duck egg – all of which make the treat expensive and special. In the time of the Yuan dynasty, the Chinese rebels were plotting to overthrow the Mongol’s rule. To effectively and secretly communicate, rebellious messages were stuffed into moon cakes and passed around. Eventually the Mongol was overthrown a short time later and then the Ming dynasty began.

Chinese Moon Festival (Mid-Autumn Festival) - Zhong Qui Jier. (2013, January 1). Retrieved September 2, 2014, from

7. [A] children
Alongside celebrating the season of harvest, most of the events are for the children and so the Vietnamese Moon Festival is commonly known as “The Children’s Festival.” In the olden days, the Vietnamese considered children as best embodying innocence and purity of the natural world. Therefore, including events for the children was seen as the best way to connect to the animal spirits.

Park, J. (2013, October 30). Vietnamese Moon Festival – How much do we know about it. Retrieved September 3, 2014, from

How to celebrate Mid-Autumn Moon Festival in Vietnam - Annieflower. (2014, January 1). Retrieved September 2, 2014, from

8. [A] tree
The Vietnamese Moon Festival is commonly associated with the Legend of Thằng Cuội. Under his care was a sacred bayan tree, which had the ability to restore life. The tree had to be carefully watered to avoid contamination, but one day, Cuội’s wife forgot to properly water the tree with clean water when he was away. Instead, she urinated on it. The tree began to grow in an unruly manner and when Cuội tried to chop it down with his axe, he got stuck in the tree and floated upwards along with it. Then he got stranded on the moon and so every year, the children light colorful lanterns to lead Cuội back to Earth.

Park, J. (2013, October 30). Vietnamese Moon Festival – How much do we know about it. Retrieved September 2, 2014, from

9. [A] True
In Vietnam, moon cakes are known as Bánh Trung Thu. Similar to the Korean and Chinese cultures, moon cakes are treated as special sweets that are eaten in celebration of the Moon Festival. One interesting fact is that if moon cakes are made perfectly, an entire batch could be eaten without feeling bloated! Should a moon cake not be made so well, then just one would be too much to finish. Good moon cakes are distinguished by their taste, richness, softness, and for how long they can last. To represent the full moon, moon cakes consist of whole salted egg yolks. Traditional moon cakes are decorated with Chinese imprints to symbolize longevity and harmony, but some additional decorations include the moon, flowers, vines, and even a bunny.

Park, J. (2013, October 30). Vietnamese Moon Festival – How much do we know about it. Retrieved September 2, 2014, from

10. [C] balance of lightness and darkness
Two equinoxes occur every year, one in March and another in September. This phenomenon of a nearly perfect balance between day and night is due to the sun’s alignment with the earth that allows its rays to shine directly upon the equator. Since the seasons are opposite on either side of the equator, the biannual equinoxes are named in correspondence to each hemisphere’s season during March and September. The equinox in September is known as the autumnal (fall) equinox in the northern hemisphere, while the southern hemisphere calls it the spring (vernal) equinox. Alongside the marvel of an equinox, specifically viewing one in Mexico at the city of Chichén Itzá includes an extraordinary sight.

September Equinox. (2014, January 1). Retrieved September 3, 2014, from

Spring Equinox: A guide to experiencing the vernal equinox in Mexico - Lonely Planet. (2013, February 15). Retrieved September 3, 2014, from

11. [D] snake
In the city of Chichén Itzá in Mexico, thousands flock to the ancient Temple of Kukulcán to witness another phenomenon during the autumnal equinox. When the time comes, the sun’s rays project a diamond-back rattlesnake/feathered serpent of light and shadow upon the mysterious Temple’s step-pyramid structure, which is to many the symbol of Mexico’s roots in antiquity. Also known as the El Castillo (Spanish for “the castle”) pyramid, the Maya architectural precision and astronomical knowledge are what produce the illusion of a serpent ascending or descending the pyramid’s side staircase. The staircase’s triangles are what give the serpent image its rattlesnake resemblance, and its graphic depiction of darkness and light represent day and night. Due to its appearance during an equinox, the serpent also symbolizes the joining of the heavens, earth, and the underworld. The Temple of Kukulcán is figuratively and metaphorically placed at the center of space and time, a monument embodying a temple, the cosmos, a calendar, and a giant sun dial. The Chichén Itzá Festival is held in appreciation of the astronomic achievements of the Maya, including their seeming obsession with time and the cycle of the heavens.

Anderssen, A. (2009, March 20). A festival of the unusual kind at Chichén Itzá. Retrieved September 3, 2014, from

Barbezat, S. (2014, January 1). Celebrating the Spring Equinox in Mexico. Retrieved September 3, 2014, from

The Equinox at Chichén Itzá. (n.d.). Retrieved September 4, 2014, from

12. [A] 1st century
The earliest archaeological remains discovered at Chichén Itzá are dated to be from the 1st century. Chichén Itzá is the most famous Maya site in the Yucatán peninsula, believed by archeologists to be first inhabited in 432AD. Then the site was abandoned for unknown reasons and resettled in 964AD by the Itzas, a Maya speaking group from the southern region of Guatemala. The Maya were mathematical geniuses, and incorporated their astronomical calculations into their breathtaking architecture. Multiple aspects of the Temple of Kukulcán pyramid and the image of the rattlesnake/feathered serpent upon an equinox reflects the Maya brilliance in astronomy. The rattlesnake is held as a sacred animal by the Maya – as the Maya kept meticulous record of time with complex solar and lunar calendars, the rattlesnake keeps time by adding a new rattle every year when it sheds its skin. The Maya achieved the projected image of the serpent by carefully situating the Kukulcán pyramid so that the north side is covered in shadow, while the west side is bathed in light. Additionally, the nine steps of the pyramid (representing the nine different levels of the underworld) cause seven isosceles triangles to reflect upon the carved staircase. When the sun falls on the day of an equinox, the triangles move down the side of the staircase and creates the slow impression of the serpent moving up and down, which represents the movement from sky to the ground.

Anderssen, A. (2009, March 20). A festival of the unusual kind at Chichén Itzá. Retrieved September 3, 2014, from

The Equinox at Chichén Itzá. (n.d.). Retrieved September 4, 2014, from

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