September 7, 2008
One of my favorite times of year is coming up soon. It’s the Chinese Mid Autumn Festival. The Mid Autumn festival is held on the Fifteenth Day of the Eighth Lunar Month of the Chinese traditional calendar. This year, the date falls on the night of September 14th, 2008. On that night, the full moon is supposed to make its roundest and brightest appearance of the year.
The appearance of the largest and brightest moon of the year marks the time to celebrate the harvest as well as a time to remember and be thankful for the the idea of completeness and abundance of our lives. Naturally, therefore, it’s a time to celebrate this in the fullness of our family circle.
The American tradition closest in flavor to the celebration of the mid Autumn festival is our Thanksgiving (which we celebrate on the fourth Thursday in November). In China, families gather for a meal and for something like a family reunion, just as Americans do for Thanksgiving. But in China, the celebration is held outside, whenever possible, so that the light of the moon may be enjoyed. Families make a point of eating outside under the moonlight or strolling outside, taking time to enjoy each others’ company in the light of the abundant, full moon.
At this time, people also decorate with red lanterns. In China, red is a color of joy and celebration. Some people make ornate and decorated lanterns, and children carry lanterns. The lanterns are not always red. There are many ornate lanterns of many different designs. Also, for safety reason, the traditional lanterns with candles inside have (at least in Guangzhou) given way to lanterns that are lit by small battery operated lights inside. All the children have them. The children delight in being allowed on this night to stay up past their bedtime to go outside and show off their lanterns, dancing and prancing around in the moonlight with other children.
So, it’s also called the lantern festival.
One year, a little girl who lived near us did, indeed, have a lantern lit by a candle inside. She got so excited from playing with her lantern that she swung it a little too hard, starting a small fire on the grass in our housing compound!
Our apartment compound was always beautifully decorated and lit up at mid Autumn festival. I think I shall miss it! The trees were always strung on their branches with green lights, with hundreds of small, red lanterns hanging from the trees. The archways of the walks had been hung with large red lanterns. I’m sorry to say that I failed to take any photographs of this lovely sight, but I have some other photos of the lantern decorations that were shot a few times here or there.
In Guangzhou, there is a special exhibit of lanterns at a park. Here is a link to an article about it, though I regret that I have no idea where the "Culture Park" is located. Click here for link
People also make and eat special "Moon Cakes" during mid Autumn festival. The Chinese name for these is yue bing (月饼). Yue is the word for moon, and bing is a shortened version of the word for cake. (For a photo click here .) They are made from white flour and sugar with only very little leavening. They are round, molded into in the shape of a full moon (of course), and they have treats in the middle. The treat in the center might be an egg yolk, a piece of sweetened lotus paste, sweet bean paste, some nuts, some jelly, or any number of other things that could also be salty or very flavorful. The moon cakes were so rich that I could usually only eat a half of one.
These moon cakes can be quite fancy (and expensive). The molds for the moon cakes have Chinese characters on them for things like "happiness" or "fortune," and the cakes are exchanged as gifts. To be honest, most of them were not to my taste. I found the cakes generally to be a bit sweet, the cake part a bit dry, and also the flavors of the inside treats perhaps more suited to a Chinese palate than a western one. My Chinese friends understood this. They told me that most Westerners don’t like them.
On this year’s September 15th, the night of the fullest Autumn moon, I encourage you to hang a red lantern in your house or on your porch, have some friends or family over to visit, eat a special round shaped dessert, stroll under the light of the moon, and think about the fullness of all of our many blessings!