Community Holidays: Reflections on the Moon Festival

Six mooncakes on a plate.
Brandon Lee, Director of Experiential Learning

The following is a blog post written by Brandon Lee, our Director of Experiential Learning. KLS community members are encouraged to share about holidays they observe for future blog posts by completing this Google Form.

I was born on the moon festival. My parents like to remind me. They live in Taiwan now, but sometime between September through October, they will call to wish me a happy birthday and make sure I didn’t forget that I was born on the fifteenth day of the eighth month on the lunar calendar, when the Chinese believe the moon is the fullest and brightest of the year. And maybe it’s a bit of narcissism that comes out, but the moon festival is the holiday I hold most dear. 

For those who don’t know, the moon festival, or mid-autumn festival, is a holiday that was traditionally a celebration of a bountiful harvest in China. During this time, families gather, eat together, and we look forward to a prosperous year. It’s also a celebration of the moon, and the goddess of the moon, Chang’e. Because of this, we eat mooncake, usually lotus or red bean filled pastries that amass around 1000 calories each despite being only a few centimeters in diameter. And now, you know as much as I do about the moon festival. 

Unlike the Lunar New Year, schools rarely teach about the moon festival. Whereas chopstick holders teach you about the zodiac and PBS might air a lion dance, you don’t really see much explaining how Chang’e stole the elixir of immortality. This lack of visibility is actually part of why I love the moon festival so much. It feels like a bit of a secret—one that I would gladly share with others.

In college, I had a friend from New Hampshire, Tim, who had never known anyone who was Asian. I introduced him to boba, sushi, and Taiwanese rap. Next up was the moon festival. The next full moon, we took the T down to South Station in Boston and walked our way to the gates of Chinatown that guard the kingdom behind it. Nestled between a dumpling shop and a live poultry shop sits Ho Yuen Bakery, an unassuming shop that sells the coveted mooncakes once a year. As we stand in line, my friend is still focused on the live poultry shop we just passed. “So are those pets?” he asks. Oh, you sweet summer child.

Back in our dorm rooms, we open up a buffet of mooncakes. From the outside, they all look the same, but inside each has different fillings. I let Tim know, “By the way, none of this is actually going to taste that good.” 

“Then why are we eating it?” he asked.

“Because it’s tradition.” 

Before we dive in, a few others join us from down the hall. Someone tells us the full story of Chang’e and her husband Hou Yi who shot down the suns. It was all new to me. We cut the pastries up into wedges. At the center of the mooncake is a salted duck yolk. It contrasts with the cloying sweetness of the redbean or lotus seed, but also for many is not super desirable. As my friend bites into it, he attempts to hide his disgust. I assure him that it’s okay. Most people don’t like it. We huddle over the pastries and eat the rest. 

One thing that makes our KLS community so beautiful is the diversity of people and experiences that we have. From my experience, learning about holidays in school has often been about an encyclopedia-like study of different traditions. Research these holidays, fill in this chart with the foods that are eaten, draw the dress that is worn, document any dances done, complete this Venn diagram to compare them, and so on and so forth. And while this is important, I feel like it does not capture the true nature of holidays and their importance to each of us, nor does that study help one connect to that culture on a deeper level. I know maybe five facts about the moon festival, yet it means so much more to me. It’s one thing to know about the history of the day, and it’s another to sit down together, share a mooncake, and grimace at each other when we bite into the salted duck yolk. 

I find these little idiosyncrasies to be the most wonderful part of festivities. I love it when I’m introduced to a holiday and someone says the words, “But the way MY family does it is this…” All of a sudden, you’re at a Passover dinner and everyone is hitting each other with leeks. And I invite you to share your holidays, the way you celebrate, and what they personally mean to you. 

If you would like to open your world to the KLS community, please fill out this survey so we can contact you to write about your family’s holidays for the Insider. I can’t wait to hear about your stories, your family, and your traditions—And perhaps celebrate them together this year. 

I’ll bring the mooncakes.

—Brandon 

KLS Families: Share About Holidays You Celebrate

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