Moon Cakes, Lanterns and the Lunar Eclipse

Judy Shin Lim with Shawn and Justin Lim ready to walk the neighborhood with their paper lanterns at this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival.

Judy Shin Lim with Shawn and Justin Lim ready to walk the neighborhood with their paper lanterns at this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival.

By Zeenat Kassam Mitha –

Fort Bend residents rejoiced over the majesty of the moon and the joys of the harvest as they celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival.

Every year on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, when the moon is at its utmost brightness during the year, this festival occurs. This year was extra special as the lunar eclipse coincided with the Mid-Autumn Festival on September 27th.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes directly behind the earth into its shadow. This can occur only when the sun, earth and moon are aligned with the earth in the middle. A lunar eclipse can occur only the night of a full moon.

The festival is a popular celebration among many, including the Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese cultures. It marks the end of the harvest season. There are plenty of moon cakes, made up of bean paste or lotus-seed paste and packed inside a pastry layer. “Traditionally, the moon cakes had a salted, hardboiled egg yolk in the center to represent the moon, but today, moon cakes are made in so many ways,” said Fort Bend resident Terri Wang. “It is also common to see colored rice paste molded into animals and elaborate centerpieces filled with treats.”

Traditionally, children gave pastries and tea to their elders with the help of parents. This was a chance for children to pay respect and connect with their elders while giving thanks for the harvest and making wishes while gazing at the moon. The elders reciprocated by giving the children gifts and brightly colored lanterns with riddles. “Today, in Fort Bend, the festival circles mainly around family and friends, eating moon cakes, drinking tea and appreciating the moon,” said Judy Shin Lim. “Then, we walk in our neighborhoods, showing our brightly colored lanterns.”

There are many versions of a famous legend associated with the Moon Festival, but this adaptation is shared by many. The Jade Emperor, ruler of heaven, had 10 uncontrollable sons. One day, the 10 sons transformed themselves into 10 suns. This cruelly charred the earth from  heaven. The Jade Emperor summoned Hou Yi, an immortal archerer renowned for his marksmanship, and ordered him to teach his sons a lesson.

Hou Yi descended to earth and saw the damage with his own eyes. Everything was burnt and dead, and the people were in anguish. Filled with anger, he proceeded. With his arrow, he targeted the suns. The first sun fell down, then another, until nine suns were down. This left nine of the Jade Emperor’s sons dead. Hou Yi left only one sun alive to give the earth light and warmth. The Jade Emperor was furious when he heard the news. He stripped Hou Yi and his beautiful wife Chang’e from their immortality and kept them on earth. Hou Yi and Chang’e were demanded to live on earth as ordinary mortals.

Hou Yi knew about the immortal Queen Mother of the West, who lived on earth, and she had a rare supply of the elixir of immortality. Hou Yi reached the Queen Mother, and she gave him two things. One was the elixir; the other was a warning that drinking half of the elixir would grant everlasting life. He knew he had half for himself and half for his wife.   

When Hou Yi reunited with Chang’e, she was thrilled, but he was tired and needed rest. Chang’e could not resist peeking at the elixir he brought back. Her impatience to become immortal tempted her into drinking the entire potion, not knowing the consequence. Before long, she felt her limbs grow weightless, and she began to float into the sky against her will. Chang’e drifted to the moon, where she spent the rest of her days. Hou Yi lived the rest of his days on earth as a common man. Chang’e is forever known as the Goddess of the Moon.

The celebration continues around the world to focus on rejoicing with family and friends, a culture and a legend.

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