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Is it the festival or the size of the cake?

By interdasglobal (blog.chinadaily.com.cn) Updated: 2014-09-02 15:44

In a few days time all of China will be on the move, celebrating in grand family reunion-style the Moon Festival. I have noticed the importance of this festival and the joyous anticipation of my friends as the days inch closer to this happy occasion. That being so, I, as a very curious foreigner, decided to take a look at what this is all about. I have only scratched the surface here but already the centuries-old relevance of the festival to a modern day, well-adjusted life is becoming apparent to me.

The Moon Festival, or Harvest Festival, is a unique blend of family, tradition, culture and ceremony. Forget or discount the pomposity and fakery of giving the most elegantly packaged and outrageously expensive moon cake, which is often given not as a mark of friendship, gratitude or respect but often a crude attempt to gain favor, thus cheapening the true ideal behind the festival. These ideals appear to me as basically a family and community appreciation of the role of nature in the production of food and the gratitude or hope for good fortune. Instead of looking at the festival as an opportunity to attract commercial benefit, look at the symbolic simplicity of giving a moon cake to people you like, know and possibly love, your nearest and dearest, as a link between the past, present and future of family and culture. 

This rural harvest festival with all of its colorful cultural appendages has been celebrated since the Shang Dynasty (c. 16th to 10th century BC), which may make it the world’s oldest continuously celebrated festival.  There are so many ancient tales about the Moon Festival focused upon Chang'e, known as the Moon Goddess of Immortality. The tales such as the one below help to explain the mythical origins of the festival as opposed to the practical relief of a bountiful harvest.

“In the ancient past, there was a super-hero named Yi who was an excellent archer. His wife was Chang'e. One year, 10 suns rose in the sky together, causing great disaster to people. Yi shot down nine of the suns and left only one to provide light. An immortal admired Yi and sent him a small bottle containing the elixir of immortality. Yi did not want to leave Chang'e and be immortal without her, so he let Chang'e keep the elixir. But Feng Meng, one of his apprentices, knew this secret. So, on the 15th of August in the lunar calendar, Yi went hunting. While he was gone, Feng Meng broke into Yi's house and tried to force Chang'e to give him the elixir. Chang'e refused to do so. Instead, she swallowed it and flew into the sky. Since she loved her husband very much and hoped to live nearby, she chose the moon for her residence. When Yi came back and learned what had happened, he felt so sad that he displayed the fruits and cakes Chang'e liked in the yard and gave sacrifices to his wife”.  

What a beautiful story! It fits well with my being an incurable romantic and believer in humanity. And it still has conceptual lessons of loyalty, love and courage relevant in this modern world.

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