The Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhongqiujie/jong-chyoh-jyeah) falls on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. It is the night of the Harvest Moon, the fullest and brightest moon of the year and this year it falls on September 19, 2013.
Also known as the Day of Reunion, this holiday dates back more than 3,000 years, to the Shang Dynasty, when the moon was worshipped as a symbol of peace, prosperity, and family.
One of the things I enjoy most about China is the commitment to family. Family is everything here. There are all of the family dynamics here, both positive and negative, which exist everywhere else in the world. The Chinese, however, have an admirable ability to push all of the negative baggage aside when it really matters.
Like when a family member is in need. Nothing else matters. Or on Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), the ultimate celebration of family that I have ever witnessed. And Mid-Autumn Festival, while a distant second to Spring Festival (All holidays are a distant second to Spring Festival.), is nonetheless right up there in the celebration of family.
There is a meal involved, of course. A great deal of celebration, and a great deal of business, for that matter, occur around a dinner table in China. (In the latter case, however, it is considered inappropriate to actually discuss business during the meal. The meal is a time for pleasantry only. The brawling, verbal or otherwise, is reserved for the after-dinner drinks.)
And the traditional food for Mid-Autumn Festival is the mooncake (yue bing), a Chinese pasty measuring roughly 4 inches across and 2 inches in thickness. The pasty surface is inevitably pressed in elaborate designs and filled with dense fillings that vary from lotus seed paste to egg yolk.
The delicacy of moon cakes is a matter of personal taste, but they are everywhere in the days and weeks leading up to the holiday. Companies frequently give them to suppliers, customers, and employees alike and the packaging is often elaborate – if not luxurious, costing far more than the cakes themselves.
This year, as a result, the top anti-graft watchdog of the CPC issued a ban on the purchase of moon cakes with public funds, part of the government’s laudable efforts to curb extravagance and waste at taxpayer expense.
The most important tradition during the Mid-Autumn Festival, however, is for families to view the bright, full moon together, no matter where in the world they happen to be at the time.
And therein lies the beauty of the holiday for me. No matter where your family members are in the world, we’re all looking at the same moon. The idea, therefore, is that the family is brought together, no matter how dispersed they are geographically, by the big, bright, globally common, luna plena, as it’s known in Latin.
According to famed psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), who authored the Hierarchy of Needs, the need for connection and belonging comes right after the physiological needs for food and water and the need for safety and security. It is a prerequisite to self-esteem and self-actualization – the state of total fulfillment.
And in their usual clever fashion the Chinese have figured out how to do that even when the family unit, both immediate and extended, is scattered over the face of the earth.
Today, of course, we have e-mail and Skype and instant messaging and a gazillion other ways to stay in touch electronically. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think any of them match the connecting power of looking at the moon in unison.
The moon, of course, is not always visible on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. But I’ve found that doesn’t really matter. It’s the time and the effort and the thinking that really generates the results. Even looking at an old family photograph is a good substitute.
So, come this September 19th, have a relaxing dinner with your friends or family, and then take a moment to go outside, or onto the fire escape, or the balcony, or wherever it is you go to take in the world, and think about family and friends, past and present. You’ll be amazed at how good you feel.
And before you go back inside remember the insightful words of Confucius, “Wherever you go, there you are.”
Copyright © 2013 Glassmaker in China
Notice: The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity. They are not in any way endorsed or sanctioned by his employer or any other individual with which he may be personally or professionally affiliated.
“The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.” – Abraham Maslow