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September 14, 2010 > Moon Festival - lady in the moon

Moon Festival - lady in the moon

By William Marshak

Harvest festivals focus on the close of a growing season and hopefully, an abundance of food. In China and many parts of Southeast Asia, Moon Festival (Zhongqui [Jie] or Tet Trung Thu)) celebrations are held on 15th day of the 8th Lunar Month. This is a date when the moon is full. The origin of the festival is subject to a wide variety of folklore, but many versions follow the tale of Houyi, a famed archer, and his wife, Chang'e (also known as Hou Yi and Chang Er) who associated with -or were - immortals in heaven.

Ten suns (referred to as "birds") circled the earth at different intervals. Versions of the myth hold divergent and sometimes contradictory storylines but in many, Houyi kills nine of the suns on orders of the Emperor, leaving only one that we see today. An immortality pill in Houyi's possession was ingested by Chang'e who flew to the moon, inhabited by a rabbit. The rabbit and Chang'e - some legends say both are alter egos - now reside on the moon, trying to recreate the immortality pill. Chang'e is said to represent female energy (Yin) while Houyi who resides in a palace on the sun, represents male energy (Yang). Some legends say the night of the Moon Festival is the only time during the year that both can be together.

The Vietnamese version of this festival recounts a different legend of Cuoi who was banished to the Moon. Lanterns and light are featured in parades to show Cuoi the path back to earth. Often Lion Dancing accompanies this celebration for luck and fortune.

The "Jade Rabbit" of the moon has its own legend. Three old men who were actually fairy sages, encountered a fox, monkey and rabbit and asked for food. The fox and monkey were able to help the men, but the rabbit had nothing to give. Instead, the rabbit jumped into a fire to cook himself as an offering of his own flesh. As a reward for the ultimate sacrifice, the sages allowed the rabbit to live in a Moon Palace.

Moon Cakes, a symbol of the Moon Festival, are usually round pastries, but sometimes square, filled with egg yolks or other ingredients and baked with symbols on top. A legend attached to Moon Cakes centers around a rebellion against Mongolian occupation of China in the fourteenth century. It is said that an uprising was planned during the Moon Festival; rebel leaders ordered special Moon Cakes to be baked with instructions. They knew the Mongols would not eat them and intercept the messages. The government was overthrown and the Ming dynasty was established.

Whatever origin of the Moon Festival is celebrated, the festival is a time for friends, families and lovers to enjoy each other's company, eat moon cakes and relax in the light of the moon. This year, the Moon Festival will fall on Wednesday, September 22 in all time zones. In Fremont, the Main Library will host a craft program on that day at 4 p.m. (see It's A Date in this issue). A large celebration of the Moon Festival including a street bazaar, parades along Grant Avenue and live entertainment will be held in San Francisco Chinatown on September 18 and 19.

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