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Residents of Tai Hang village in Hong Kong celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival with their annual fire dragon dance.
In this dance, participants adorn a "dragon" with thousands of incense sticks and parade it through the streets.PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images
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Another scene from the dragon dance.
Some experts say that the dance has its origins In the 19th century, when Tai Hang villagers "stopped" a plague by performing a fire dragon dance. Since then, it has become an annual tradition, drawing 300 performers to dance with the fire dragon.Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images
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A man burns a tower to celebrate the festival in Nanchang of Jiangxi province, China. VCG/VCG via Getty Images
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Fireworks explode to celebrate the Mid-autumn Festival in Yichun of Jiangxi Province, China.VCG via Getty Images
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A father and son celebrate the lantern festival as part of the Mid-Autumn Festival at Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images
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A group of Chinese chefs stand before a giant mooncake in Beijing. STR/AFP/Getty Images
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Restaurant staff help cut and bag pieces from a giant mooncake in Beijing.STR/AFP/Getty Images
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Chefs use dozens of light bulbs to fully prepare the 13-metric-ton mooncake pictured here in Shenyang, Liaoning, China. Zhang Wenkui/VCG via Getty Images
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Residents rush to taste a colossal mooncake during the Tianfu Food Expo Mooncake Festival in Chengdu of Sichuan Province, China. China Photos/Getty Images
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A woman makes a watermelon light during Pinghu Watermelon Light Culture Festival in Pinghu, China. This particular iteration of the Mid-Autumn Festival is specific to Pinghu, where watermelon lights have a 200-year history. VCG/VCG via Getty Images
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A vendor holds up star-shaped lanterns for sale in Hanoi, Vietnam. Star-shaped lanterns are among some others traditional toys children still appreciate.HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images
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People participate in a pillow fight in Yantai, of Shandong Province, China.VCG/VCG via Getty Images
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A dancer performs traditional Mongolian dance as part of a Mid-Autumn Lantern carnival in Hong Kong.MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images
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Chinese women wear traditional Tang clothes to celebrate the Mooncake festival in Xi'an of Shaanxi Province, China. Shang Hongtao/VCG via Getty Images
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Visitors look at giant dragon lanterns displayed at Victoria park in Hong Kong. SAMANTHA SIN/AFP/Getty Images
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Children dressed in traditional Chinese clothes hold lotus-shaped lanterns as they parade during the Fire Dragon festival.SAMANTHA SIN/AFP/Getty Images
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People gather under the moonlight during Mid-Autumn Festival in Nanjing, China.VCG via Getty Images
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Chinese people attend an evening held to mark the Mid-Autumn Festival at the Forbidden City in Beijing.China Photos/Getty Image
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Workers hold red ribbons symbolizing marriage and love for couples during a group wedding to mark the Mid-Autumn Festival in Shifang of Sichuan Province, China.China Photos/Getty Images
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An actress dressed in traditional makeup and clothes performs during an evening to mark the Mid-Autumn Festival in Chengdu of Sichuan Province, China.China Photos/Getty Images
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Fireworks explode to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival in Guiyang of Guizhou Province, China. VCG via Getty Images
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A Chinese woman dressed in the costume of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) walks in the Du Fu Thatched Cottage Museum in Chengdu of Sichuan Province, China. China Photos/Getty Images
Get To Know Asia’s Mid-Autumn Festival In These Stunning Photos
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has nothing on east Asia's Mid-Autumn Festival.
Historians have traced the one-day, shock-to-the-senses event all the way back to the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE), where the story goes that the Hakka people of southeast China congregated to give thanks to the Mountain Gods for a successful harvest.
Thousands of years later, under the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), the event became an official festival. And though the places and means through which millions of people celebrate the annual autumnal festival have changed over time, the festival’s tenets — celebrating the season, giving thanks for the harvest and praying for a brighter future — have remained the same.
In practice, these values translate to burning incense, performing dragon and lion dances (particularly popular in China and Vietnam), lighting lanterns, and making mooncakes — lotus paste-filled pastries which can be as small as a plum or as large as a pool and signify familial unity.
Beyond the exorbitant light and food displays, the most notable events pertaining to the Mid-Autumn Festival center on matchmaking. Indeed, in certain parts of China, participants hold dances for single men to meet single women. In Vietnam, these courtship rituals have included singing competitions, wherein single men and women would perform songs until the best-rated man and woman remained. The two would be paired together as a “match,” and the cycle would thus repeat.
At present, the millennia-old festival takes place throughout China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and neighboring countries — with its age-old traditions reminding us that larger-than-life celebrations of the season don’t necessarily have to involve retail.
For more fascinating celebrations from around the world, check out Turkey's camel wrestling festival and La Tomatina, a decades-old Spanish event where thousands of people congregate in a small town to hurl over 300,000 pounds of tomatoes at one another.