Has 20 years really passed since my first Mid-Autumn Festival? Hard to believe.
When I moved to Hong Kong for the first time, I knew nothing about this holiday. I clearly remember roaming the open air markets in Tai Po, about twenty minutes south of the China border, and seeing lanterns everywhere. Mostly made from cellophane and wire, they were shaped as rabbits, goldfish, lotus flowers, horses, cars, rockets, and butterflies.
That year I had a host family who invited me over for holidays and on the weekends. The Chans took me to a street festival on Hong Kong Island where children paraded in costumes holding giant lanterns made from fabric. Held at night, the parade was illuminated from the bystanders holding their own lit lanterns. Later we ate mooncakes and sipped tea back at their flat.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is always held on the fifteenth day of the eighth month in the lunar calendar. Also called the Moon Festival, it signifies the end of the summer harvest. I love other harvest holidays like the Jewish Sukkot (also held today because the Jewish calendar is also based on the moon, not the sun) and Thanksgiving.
Interestingly, when I spent my 25th birthday in China, which happened to fall on the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival, it wasn’t a big holiday at all. We managed to find some tasteless mooncakes, but I didn’t see any lanterns. And no one had the day off.
This year people in China get not one but three days off for the Mid-Autumn Festival. The holiday also coincides with the first day of autumn in the western calendar, which doesn’t happen often.
Happy Moon Festival!