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United under the same moon

The significance behind the Mooncake Festival

(Photograph provided by Kip Yitian Yin)

(Photograph provided by Kip Yitian Yin)

By Chin Yi Oh | Echo 

For most students, Thanksgiving is the time where students travel home to gather with family and eat turkey. For the Chinese students, the Mooncake Festival is a time of family reunions and eating mooncakes; however, traveling home for this festival is typically not an option.

The festival, also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, is celebrated every year either in the month of September or October, after the harvest season. It is believed that on this day, the moon is at its roundest and brightest.

“In Chinese culture, many poems use the moon as a symbol of homesickness, ” said senior Nixi Zhu. “The first thing that comes to mind when I think of this festival is my family, and it’s pretty cool that they are watching the same moon as I am.”

To the Chinese, when they are separated from family, they would look at the moon to remind themselves that, even though they are apart in distance, they are united in heart.

The mooncake holds great significance for this festival, as it symbolizes family reunion. For the Chinese, anything that is round in shape means perfection, reunion, oneness and fullness. When eating, the mooncake is cut proportionally into pieces that equal the number of people in the family.

The design on the mooncake tells a story on its own. Each mooncake has printings etched on it ranging from words of blessings to patterns that tell a story.

Why this festival is important.

“It is a part of my culture that has been around for a long time, more than 3,000 years,” junior Shuyi He said. “It is a tradition that makes us who we are today and it is important to keep traditions.”

Freshman Laurence Li says the hardest part during this festival is not being able to be with family, to eat authentic mooncakes and admire the moon in his homeland, China.

Charlie Brainer, dean of international programs and Asian initiative, lived in China for 15 years. For Brainer, the Mooncake festival holds a special place in his heart.

“In a lot of ways, for me, when I look at trying to understand Mid-Autumn Festival, the closest American holiday we celebrate that it reminds me of, is Thanksgiving,” Brainer said. “In terms of it being a fall holiday, families gathered together for a special meal with special food and mooncakes being a part of that, sort of like we having pumpkin pie or turkey. A warm family-centered holiday.”

Many other countries of Chinese descent also celebrate this festival, such as Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Korea. However, customs vary between countries, with some having dragon dances and beautiful lanterns. In Japan, the Mid-Autumn Festival is called “Tsukimi,” which means “moon watching.”

Brainer said he wants to make sure this festival is recognized, for American students and faculty to understand something about it and to recognize and celebrate with foreign students.

“Just like if I was living in China and somebody said ‘Oh, today is Thanksgiving, I know it’s a special holiday,’” Brainer said. “Even though they don’t know the depth of the meaning, it’s still nice that they would say that and remember that. Knowing that it must mean something to me, to be away from family and celebrating with them. We want to at least acknowledge that (for our students).”

This year, the Asian Society for Intercultural Awareness (ASIA) is hosting the festival in conjunction with the ASIA party, called “The MoonLIT Party.” This event will take place on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on the second floor of Euler Atrium.

According to co-president sophomore Heewon Son, the event is open to all Asian, Asian-American students and anyone who is interested in Asia. Events include a range of Asian food from Indian to Japanese, followed by a trip to the Euler roof to observe the moon together.

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