This weekend, September 6-8, is the Chinese Moon Festival. This is a fun celebration to share with your kids. They get to learn about another culture and have fun in the process. Our formal American holidays don’t include celebrations of the harvest. It might be nice to incorporate some aspect of this tradition into your own. One of things I love about this and many other Asian holidays is the way it honors the feminine. In this case, it a lovely way to celebrate the feminine aspects of the harvest and all the wonderful women in your world.
This celebration, also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, is held at the full moon, on the 15th day in the 8th lunar month of the year. It is the “harvest moon,” that big yellow one that hovers over the horizon. The holiday, one of the most popular in Chinatowns in the western states (and of course, Chinese and Asian communities world-wide), celebrates lovers (especially those who are separated but still connected spiritually — as they gaze at the moon at the same time), reunion, gathering and in some Asian cultures, like Japan and Vietnam, children. It is also said that when the Chinese overthrew the Mongol invaders in 1368, the rebels put messages in the moon cakes and were thus able to accomplish their goal.
The main thing to do on this day is gather with loved ones and families, eat sweet moon cakes, drink tea and gaze at the full moon. The best moon cakes I’ve found in Portland are from the wonderful, French-Vietnamese An Xuyen Bakery on SE Foster Rd. (They also have yummy sandwiches and Vietnamese coffee). The shapes, designs and flavors of the moon cakes reflect the key symbolism of the celebration, which is centuries old. Moon cakes are round the moon and come in many flavors. I like lotus and pineapple. They are cut into little pieces, like a pizza or pie, and shared. You can also find them at other Asian bakeries around town through the festival. Try one. They are sweet and full, like the beginning of fall.
You can make some tea and enjoy your moon cakes while enjoying the harvest moon in September. You can tell the story of Chang-e (below) , and look for her and her rabbit companion on the moon. Traditional Chinese belief is that the moon is the Queen of Heaven, and that flowers fell from the moon on this night. It was said that men who saw the blooms would find wealth and women would have many children. At the end of the festival, light lanterns or candles (the lights are like night blossoms). If kids are a part of your celebrations, they traditionally play, have parades and hang the lanterns. May you have clear skies.
Here’s my version of the Folktale:
Chang-e Flies to the Moon
This popular Chinese Folktale is told at Moon Festival time. I have read and heard many different versions of this story, some simple and some more morally complex. In some, Chang-e and her husband Houki are gods that are banished to earth. In others, they are human, and simply have an immortal love. Sometimes Chang-e drinks the elixir that makes her immortal on accident, sometimes through impatience or longing. The impatience/longing theme is more traidtional, so I used it here. There are many other stories about the Goddess of the Moon. Some imagine the moon palace of beautiful and heavenly. Others imagine it as more lonely.
The Jade Emperor, ruler of Heaven, had ten sons who were very hard to control. One day they turned themselves into ten suns. They burned so bright that they scorched the earth and made fires everywhere. Unable to stop them, the Jade Emperor summoned Houyi, who was known as an excellent marksman. The emperor asked the immortal Houyi to teach his sons a lesson.
When Houyi got to the earth, he was moved by the devastation. Everything was scorched and the people suffered greatly. He shot down all but one sun, leaving him alone to create warmth on earth.
When the Jade Emperor heard what Houyi had done, he was livid. He had gone too far. The emperor banished Houyi and his wife Chang-e to earth forever.
There, the pair suffered greatly. Though Houyi became a hero to men, because he fought off foes and monsters with his keen bow and kind heart, Houyi fretted daily over his mortality. He and his beloved wife would someday die and be parted. Chang-e also suffered loneliness, isolation, fear. She was alone when Houyi went on his adventures and feared that he would not return.
Luckily, Houyi remembered that the Queen Mother of the West, who lives on earth had a rare supply of the elixir of immortality. He set off on a difficult journey to ask for her help. When he finally found her, the queen mother had a gift for him – the elixir. Like most gifts, it came with a warning.
Drinking half the elixir will grant everlasting life. Drinking all of it, will make you ascend to heaven.
Houyi went home triumphant! Both he and Chang-e would live forever. Chang-e was thrilled. And curious. She peaked at the elixir. She smelled it. She tasted it. She drank it all down without thinking.
Before long, she felt herself grow weightless. She drifted off into the sky and could not bring herself back to earth. Higher and higher she went. She was now immortal, but she could not go back to heaven, because she had been banished. The only place to go was the moon. And she is there today, living in the moon palace, alone except for her companion, a white hare. It is said that she still weeps bitterly for her husband who long ago died a normal death. Because of this, when she can, she brings lovers who have long been parted back together, and resides over family reunions.
If you look closely at the moon, you will see the hare that brings abundance and feel the moon goddess’s compassion.