This is a transcription of an interview with a friend from high school, identified as A. In this piece, I am identified as IC.
IC: Can you tell me about Mid-Autumn festival?
A: Okay, so Mid-Autumn festival is a festival that is closely tied to Chinese traditions of celebrating the harvest. It’s in the fall, typically in late September or October usually September. And so, a large part of the Mid-Autumn festival is the celebration of family gatherings as well because the roundness of the moon is supposed to be symbolic of everyone sitting around the table at family gatherings. There’s also another huge component, which is moon worship that comes from a Chinese myth.
IC: Okay, can you tell me about that myth?
A: Yeah, so there was this man called Hou Yi who was really good at archery. One day, there was a huge drought because there were ten different suns in the sky, and he shot down nine of the suns and left the only last one up so we could still have sunlight.
IC: Wait, I feel like I’ve heard this before.
A: Yeah, you probably heard it in like high school.
IC: Probably. Anyway, continue.
A: Right, so this immortal was impressed by Hou Yi, so he gave him an elixir for immortality, but he didn’t want to be immortal without his wife and it was only a one-person kind of deal. He decided to not take it and instead kept it and have his wife, Chang’e be the keeper of the elixir to guard it. But one day when he was out doing something official like, official business or whatever, Chang’e was approached by Hou Yi’s apprentice who demanded that she give him the elixir. Instead of handing it over she took the potion herself and became immortal. Then, she ascended to the moon and so now people worship Chang’e as a kind of goddess of the moon to commemorate her bravery and quick thinking.
My family doesn’t worship her, but I guess it depends on other people or what you believe in, like I’m sure many people still worship gods in China, especially in more rural communities.
IC: What does your family do in mid-Autumn festival to celebrate it?
A: So, we gather together as a family and a popular tradition in China is eating mooncakes. Mooncakes are like… I’m going to call them pastries or like cakes that are made with really dense white lotus paste and most of the traditional ones have an egg yolk in the middle. Recently, there have been a lot of creative kind of recreations over the years. For example, recently, there have been mochi ones and like sesame flavoured ones.
IC: I miss mooncakes, like the ones without yolk. The ones with yolk are gross. Is there anything else your family does?
A: Same, we’re the minority. Uh, not really. It’s just mostly a nighttime celebration but lanterns are a part of the celebration, I think. When I was younger, I would go outside with an electric paper lantern and play around and hang them up. The reason why lanterns are important is not very well known. It seems to be that lanterns have become a symbol of the festival.
My informant is 23 years old and she is my friend from high school, which was in Hong Kong. She went to New York for college and graduated last year. She is currently working in Hong Kong.
I asked her about this tradition because I vaguely remember learning about Chinese traditions for Mid-Autumn Festival during Chinese class in high school. I also remember eating mooncakes in Hong Kong, even though my family didn’t celebrate it the same way. I thought it would be interesting to ask someone who comes from a Chinese/Hong Kong background to ask about the specifics since I don’t know much about it. All I knew was from textbooks designed for speakers learning it as a second language.
Hearing my friend talk about how her family celebrates it and the traditions that she knows about was interesting to hear as different countries celebrate it differently. It was informative to learn about the story of Hou Yi and Chang’e and although worshipping the moon goddess is something everyone does, it was still interesting to learn about the tradition and the importance of the moon.