August Moon Festival

Posted By | Posted On Aug 11, 2008

In Boston’s Chinatown the community is getting ready to celebrate one of the most important dates of the lunar calendar. August 17, 2008 is this year’s date for the August Moon Festival, also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival. The Mid Autumn Festival always falls on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month. This is the Chinese harvest festival, and somewhat akin to our Thanksgiving Celebration. It is the time when Chinese traditionally came together to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Families would gather for a traditional harvest feast, and, after the meal go out to view the full harvest moon. Children are given bright colored lanterns to carry.

According to legend, the harvest festival played an important role in establishing the Ming Dynasty as well. From 1280 AD until 1368 AD, China was under the rule of the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty. Under the Mongolians, the Chinese were persecuted an oppressed. It was a pastry that saved them. Officials instructed bakeries to create a pastry to be delivered to all of the Chinese households. People were asked not to eat the pastry until the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, during the family gathering to celebrate the harvest. When they cut into the pastries, they discovered secret messages hidden inside. The messages called upon all of the Chinese citizens to rise up and slaughter the Mongolian oppressors that night during the moon viewing. The Mongolians were overthrown, and the Chinese Yuan Dynasty was established.

Today, these pastries are known as Moon Cakes, and are typically sold year-round at traditional Chinese pastry shops, although they still are strongly associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival. Moon Cakes come in a variety of sizes, and with a variety of fillings, such as sweet lotus paste, black bean paste, and mixed nut and candied fruit. Traditional Moon Cakes are somewhat round, which represents both family unity and the unity of the Chinese people in the overthrow of the Mongolian rule. The cakes are made in a wooden mold, which marks the top of the pastry with the baker’s emblem. Boxes of Moon Cakes are displayed in the window of the bakeries around the time of the Mid Autumn Festival, and are often given away as gifts to close friends and relatives. Many Moon Cakes contain a salted duck egg yolk in the center, which symbolizes the full moon. The most expensive pastries have double yolks. (Since Chinese pastries are not considered dessert, and are usually eaten as a snack in the middle of the afternoon along with a cup of tea, many traditional pastries blur the line between sweet and salty). Moon Cakes are traditionally consumed under the light of the full moon.

This year, there will be a celebration of the mid Autumn Festival on Sunday, August 17th, at the Chinatown gateway Arch. The celebration will begin at 10am and end at 5pm.

Written by Jim Becker, Chinatown Guide

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