USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘mooncakes’
Foodways
Holidays

The Moon Festival

Main Text

Subject: I feel like The Moon Festival for us is like the lowest key of the holidays, I think because the activity is usually just like, eating mooncake? And my parents aren’t like, particularly handy with baking, so we always just like, buy it from the store…maybe like Ranch 99, or Sheng Kee (subject laughs). And then…we’ll like have, maybe like, two sets, and then we just like, have it our house, and like, we’re sneaking bites up until the holiday, and then, the night of, I think we just like, prop up a couple of chairs, and like, sit outside and observe the moon and my parents will like, tell the same stories. Um…and then, you like, go back inside.

So like the whole…the whole observing of tradition takes, maybe like an hour. But, I think, like having the mooncake in the house is like pretty common, like having it for two or three weeks before and after.

Background

The subject is a 22-year-old Taiwanese-American woman in her fourth year at USC. Her parents are immigrants from Taiwan, and celebrating Chinese festivals have been a family tradition since childhood.

The interviewer is a 21-year-old Taiwanese-American student in his third year at USC. As someone who is from the same folk group, he is familiar with most major Chinese festivals.

By “tell the same stories,” the subject is referring to myths about the Moon Festival. Previously in the interview, the subject was asked to retell the myth of Chang-E (嫦娥), the immortal lady in the moon. However, the subject was unable to tell the myth in full without the interviewer being requested to fill in several gaps in the story.

Context

Growing up, the subject considered the observance of Chinese festivals such as this one a normal part of life. She grew up in Sunnyvale, California, where there were many Taiwanese people also participating in the tradition of celebrating these festivals. For her, the tradition was analogous to a Catholic family going to mass—something that was specific to that family and its folk group, that not all families (especially those outside the folk group) did.

The subject thinks about her family’s observance festival within the greater context of her family having a tradition of observing major Chinese festivals. She values the comfort of how the annual routine of returning home to celebrate these festivals reaffirms the stability of her family’s dynamic, relative to other Taiwanese-American families she has grown up with. Over the years, she has witnessed the families whose children are closer in age experience dramatic shifts in parental dynamics, after the children have left for college. Because of those shifts, those families tend to be less consistent in maintaining festival observances.

Unlike other families whose children are closer in age, the subject has two younger sisters. The middle sister is seven years younger than her. Because of the children’s large age gaps, her parents have continued to stick to the same everyday routines, such as driving the kids to high school, that the subject has known growing up. In a way, the family’s annual festival observances parallel the seemingly timeless everyday routines that the subject has grown up knowing.

Interviewer’s Analysis

Despite the brevity of the festival observation described, there are several notable items of folklore within. One is the iconic mooncake, which, beyond visually resembling the moon, was historically used to convey secret messages during wartime. Some modern, factory-produced mooncakes still reference this tradition, by including paper messages inside the mooncakes themselves, or by printing Chinese text on the surface of the mooncake. The sharing of messages through mooncakes, once done in personalized privacy, has now become commodified and publicized. The fact that the subject’s family eats mooncakes while sharing traditional Moon Festival myths adds a postmodern twist to the sharing of mooncake messages. It is a repetition of stories from the past in a present where a family watches the moon in private, while consuming mass-produced mooncakes with mass-produced text inscriptions. Moreover, the parents repeat this tradition every year, telling the same stories, only for the subject and her siblings to continuously forget them, almost as if so they can be annually reminded of them again. Is this truly a preservation of tradition, or is this an observation of selective tradition decay?

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