Today, September 12, is the celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival in China. It is the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. It is also called the Mooncake Festival, Lantern Festival, or Moon Festival. This festival is all about happiness and reuniting with friends and family. When the family gets together they light lanterns, make food offerings to Chang’e the moon goddess, and sit outside to eat the evening meal and enjoy the full moon.
To me there are many similarities to Thanksgiving. It’s a very busy travel holiday. Many Chinese use the opportunity to return to hometowns to visit family. We have noticed a big increase in the amount of traffic. On Saturday it took Ben about 15 minutes to travel 1/2 mile. Like in the US everyone was busy gathering what they need to celebrate.The grocery store displays reflect the traditional foods as well. If you just landed in China I think you would know a holiday was coming up if you walked into a grocery store. There are mooncake displays at every turn. They are the most traditional food for the festival. They have many variations depending on the area in which they are made. Most have lotus seed paste fillings and a flaky crust. The crust is usually stamped with the Chinese character for longevity or harmony. They are typically sweet but there are savory versions too. They are jam-packed with calories and fat grams. They aren’t very big, maybe 2 inches high and about 4 or 5 inches in diameter. They are cut into pieces equal to the number of people in the family. To me this is where it’s good to be part of a big family (not likely here though). That means you only have to choke down a small bite. In hearing people describe them they’re a bit like fruitcake. You take them to everyone, everyone politely opens them and has a bite, and that’s it. Maybe I’m talking to the wrong people but that was my impression. I’ll be honest, I don’t like them. Anders received about 15 when he was away a few weeks ago. I tried one bite and was done. We gave them to Ben who was not really surprised that I didn’t like them and was happy to take them off our hands.
The pomelo is another traditional food. It’s a giant citrus that looks like a big old lemon and tastes like a sweet grapefruit. I bought one. I had no idea how to choose the right one. Should it feel heavy for its size, should it be yellow or green, should it give a little when squeezed, or should it smell ripe? I picked one and I think I did not choose correctly. Unlike other citrus there was not a drop of juice coming out when I cut into it and it had a dry texture. The flavor was nice but we couldn’t eat much of it because of the dryness. Oh well, there is always next year.
For me the best part is the lanterns. I bought 3 and am quite pleased with myself. I love them and will always have them hanging in my house for the festival, even when we’re living in who knows where. Not surprisingly most feature Chang’e and the full moon. The apartment complex put them up all over this week and their’s are lit. They look pretty during the day and even prettier at night. We have seen them all over GZ and I can’t wait to go down by the river tonight after it gets dark to see if there is anything special. This is my first major holiday in China and in a country where traditions abound, it’s fun to learn.