Moon Festival, also called Mid-Autumn Festival, is a Chinese holiday that is somewhat analogous to Thanksgiving in the U.S.. It was initially meant to celebrate the end of harvesting. It also was, and still is, a time for reuniting and spending time with family and friends. The moon is significant in this regard, because even when people are far away from their family, they can still look up and be connected by seeing the same moon. Today, the most important food during moon festival are moon cakes, which are exchanged between family and friends, and usually round to represent the moon. Throughout the holiday’s more than 2000 years of existence, several legends and stories about it have emerged, but the most common by far is the story of Hou Yi and Chang E.
The story goes that long ago, the earth was surrounded by ten suns, which made it quite hot, and all of the crops were drying up. Hou Yi was a skilled archer, who shot nine of the ten suns out of the sky, thereby becoming a very famous hero. As a reward for his work, he was offered an immortality elixir, which he refused to drink because he wanted to stay with his wife, Chang E. Since he was so famous, he had many students who wished to learn from him, one of whom, Pang Meng, who wanted the elixir for himself. Pang Meng tried to steal the elixir when Hou Yi was gone, so Chang E, knowing she couldn’t fight him off, drank the elixir to protect it. The elixir caused her to be immortal and float away to the moon, where legend says she still lives. This legend is commonly told to children on Moon Festival. Much of the art surrounding Moon Festival involves this story, or is based on the rather beautiful notion that even people who are very far apart still see the same moon.
Moon Festival was on September 15th this year, and OU’s Chinese Language Club celebrated with homemade mooncakes, tea, and games. I had fun practicing my Chinese a bit, and trying to learn everyone’s name. I think I’m somehow more outgoing when I speak Chinese. I also gave a short presentation at the beginning of the event on the basics of Moon Festival. It was about the same content as the two paragraphs above, but it was a lot more uncomfortable, because at least half of the audience was Chinese, and they definitely know more about Moon Festival than I do. It was just really strange to give a presentation to someone about their own culture. Fortunately, I didn’t say anything terribly incorrect, and we all forgot about it and enjoyed free moon cakes afterward, but it was still a slightly uncomfortable experience for everyone involved.