Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mid-Autumn Festival: Our Year Two

Being our second time around, we had some idea the mid-autumn festival was coming up, whereas last year we were totally unaware. This year it actually felt like a holiday to me and I had answers when people asked me what we had planned. This year we knew work and schools were closed. This time around we knew the basic outlines of the legends and we knew the holiday customs (much thanks to Adam and Royce and their preschool education). We also knew that Stanley Main Beach (the closest beach to our apartment complex) was where we wanted to be to celebrate the mid-autumn festival.

This holiday is called many things, sometimes the lantern festival, sometimes the moon festival but mainly the mid-autumn festival. It falls on the 15th day of the eight lunar month of the Chinese calendar (somewhere between mid-September and mid-October based of the Western calendar) and is the second most important Chinese holiday behind Chinese New Year. It is in part a Chinese harvest festival with some interesting add-ons. There is one legend of a woman Chang swallowing immortality pills and going to live in the moon forever. There is another tale of three fairy sages coming across a fox, a monkey and a rabbit and begging for food. The fox and the monkey gave the fairies food but the rabbit had nothing to give. Instead, he threw himself into the fire as an offering. The fairies touched by his devotion turned him into the Jade Rabbit, who now resides in the moon with Chang. The rabbit story was fine for the girls but a bit gruesome for Adam, who kept insisting that it was a “pretend” legend.

At various school parties over the last week, the kids made lanterns. The custom is for families and friends to go outside to beaches and parks on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month with these lanterns and picnics and moon cakes to enjoy the night. In years past, candles were burned but this has been outlawed for safety reasons. We went to Stanley Main Beach and were admonished by lifeguards on loud speakers and by many signs “not to burn wax.” Though this seems like a major part of the holiday it proved not to be. Cheap little electronic light devises (unfortunately many of which also played cheap little mechanical music) have filled in for candles. And of course there are day-glo sticks. While we started with only a few such sticks, we ended the night with hundreds, left by kids who went home before us. Between our homemade lanterns and our day-glo sticks we were as festive as can be imagined without “real fire.”

Really, we had a great time tonight. The weather was great, a breeze and not humid. It felt like autumn, while not here, was at least close. We played in the sand, saw friends and even got a soft serve ice cream (uncommon here) on the way out. The only thing lacking with this Chinese holiday was anything Chinese. Even Tori, looking around our predominately expatriate populated beach, said with a sigh “I thought more Chinese people would be celebrating the holiday.” While it might not have been authentic, we were at least doing better than we were a year before.


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