This is one of my favorite festivals of the year. It’s akin to Thanksgiving in that it’s a holiday about families coming together but without the stress of giving gifts. Farmers would celebrate the end of the harvest season with their families and friends. The Festival is traditionally held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, which is usually around late September or early October in the Gregorian calendar.
During my childhood, my family would gather with extended family to share moon cakes, eat pomelos (a large citrus fruit), recite moon poems and observe the bright moon together. We would often go to San Francisco’s Chinatown to celebrate. For years, I cherished a small replica of a lantern, transformed into a red plastic basket filled with candy that my mom and dad bought me as a holiday treat as we strolled up Washington Street.
I especially love moon cakes with lotus seed filling with no more than two duck egg yolks. I learned this the hard way when I attempted to buy my own moon cakes. I purchased what was purported to be the best moon cake in terms of ingredients and bakery reputation. The four moon cakes cost me five movie tickets. When I finally cut into the moon cake, it was so filled with orange egg yolk that I could barely see the lotus seed paste. I could not take more than one bite of the super rich and sweet treat. I learned my lesson. Wait for my mom’s older sister, my Auntie Grace, who seems to know all, to direct me to the exact moon cake to buy. This year, my husband and I were very lucky. Auntie Grace gave us two very delicious moon cakes so no bumbling shopping trips this year. Delicate outer crust and smooth filling. And my mom gave us one shaped like a panda.
My mom and Grandma Yau taught my brother and me about the legend behind the festival. The Goddess Chang’e took a special elixir to escape an evil man, a disciple of her husband’s. The potion immediately elevated her to goddess and immortal status, separating her from her beloved husband. To stay as close to him as possible, she flew to the moon. The legend states that one can see the goddess when the moon is at its brightest in mid-autumn. My mom would point up to the moon and ask me if I could see the lady in the moon. I would squint and look and look. “Yes, I think I can see her!”
The video below does a much better job in explaining the legend of Hou Yi and the Moon Goddess Chang’e. One of the hosts is a bit over eager but despite his exuberance, the story is clear.
And for a bonus treat, I’ve included this fantastic video about the complexity of Chinese family trees and the honorific titles used in Cantonese. Really funny and helps me keep it all straight!
Only a little moon cake left. Good-bye harvest moon. ‘Til next year…
Postscript: Harvest Moon a day later, September 9, 2014