Quote EndQuote Cross-Cultural Strategy

Happy Mid-Autumn Moon Festival!

Posted by Alisa | 09.29.12

Special edition moon cakes from the Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel, made in collaboration with Fairmont Peace Hotel in Shanghai. Adjustments in the recipe had to be made due to differences in our water and flour.

Next to the Lunar New Year (also known as the Chinese New Year), Mid-Autumn Festival is second in importance to celebrate in the Chinese culture.  In Canada, the Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated on the 15thday of the eighth lunar month.  As the moon appears the fullest, brightest and most auspicious on that night, the festival is also known as the Moon Festival.  In 2012, the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on September 30.  It is a public holiday in China and Taiwan, and is usually combined with other Chinese celebrations for a longer holiday.

For centuries, the beauty of the full moon has inspired many Chinese poets including Shui Diao Ge Tou (Prelude to Water Melody), written by Su Shi in 1076. This poem, which expresses the poet’s longing for his long-parted brother, is often recited to this day: “Let us wish that he would live long, though far apart, we could share the beauty of the full moon.”

Because the Mid-Autumn Festival is a time for families to share, the full moon has come to symbolize family togetherness, romance and love in Chinese culture.  On the big day, married daughters living in their parents’ homes must attend family reunions at their mother-in-law’s. For family members who are far away from home, a sense of nostalgia is felt when they gaze at the full moon during the festival.

Moon cakes are the traditional food for the occasion.  The round shape of Chinese moon cakes symbolizes the fullness of the moon and family togetherness. Moon cakes are made with a thin, tender, pastry wrapping and are filled with a sweetened paste made of lotus seed or bean paste.  Moon cakes can contain one or more whole salted egg yolks in the centre to symbolize the full moon or moon cycles.

In our culturally-mixed family, I prepare for an evening of gazing at the moon by packing a small picnic containing a selection of round fruit such as oranges, pomelos, melons and grapes, as well as moon cakes, of course. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate with family:  I have an opportunity to share an authentic experience of the Mid-Autumn Festival with my Caucasian husband and our daughter has an opportunity to learn about her Chinese heritage and cultural celebrations through my parents’ participation.

After we pick up my family, we walk down to the seawall at False Creek in Vancouver, BC, where we can view the full moon in the sky and in the reflection of the water.  If we do not arrive before the full moon is visible, it is extremely difficult to find a place to sit because so many Chinese families are competing for space. Young Chinese children are often dressed in brightly-coloured traditional Chinese clothes and carry Chinese paper lanterns hung on sticks.  In true Canadian fusion style, we follow our moon cakes with a hot beverage from Starbucks.

Popular legends we share include tales involving the “man on the moon,” as well as, one about using moon cakes to rebel against the Mongol rulers of the Yuan Dynasty.  Led by the Chinese rebel leader, Zhu Yuanzhang, Mid-Autumn Festival moon cakes were permitted to be distributed to the Chinese residents to bless the longevity of the Mongol emperor. Instead, when the cakes were opened as part of the Mid-Autumn Festival celebration, each contained a piece of paper with the instructions “Kill the Mongols on the 15thday of the eighth month.” A coordinated attack on the Mongol rulers was made possible by the secret message contained in the moon cakes. The attack was successful and the Ming Dynasty was established under Zhu’s rule.

I wonder if this legend inspired the creation of the fortune cookie, with its inspirational yet cryptic fortunes contained on the paper messages hidden inside.  Perhaps, I can create fortune cookies or moon cakes for our daughter with messages such as “I like to clean up my room” or “I enjoy algebra.”

(Reprinted with permission from South Asian Woman Magazine, Diwali (November) 2012 issue)