By Jacquie Rogers
Copyright © 2009 Jacquie Rogers
The Chinese Moon Festival is an ancient festival over 3,000 years old, and is celebrated in autumn, the 15th moon day of the month of the Chicken. It’s the night of the full moon, of abundance, the festival to honor family ties and romantic relationships. Families, even those divided by oceans, try to come together during this time. But if a family or a couple is unable to unite, separated by hundreds or thousands of miles, they can still share the moon on that night and be together.
There are four legends primarily associated with the Moon Festival: the story of the lady, Chang Er (or Chang’e); of the man, Wu Kang; of the hare, Jade Rabbit; and of the Moon Cake.
Chang Er was the wife of Hou Yi, who shot down nine of the ten suns that were scorching the earth. As a reward, Hou Yi was given the elixir of immortality for himself and his wife. When villains tried to steal it, they killed Hou Yi, and Chang Er swallowed the elixir so the bad guys wouldn’t get it. Turned immortal, she flew to the moon, where she lives to this day. There are many versions of this story, one of the nicest told on Laputan Logic, where links to several other versions are given as well.
Wu Kang‘s story is also about immortality. He was a man who sought challenges, and hopped from job to job to find new adventures, until he decided the greatest adventure of all would be immortality. He headed for the mountains to study under an immortal. Not one area of study could hold Wu Kang’s interest, though, so the immortal got frustrated and told Wu Kang to chop down the cassie tree, and he couldn’t return to earth until he did. But the cassie tree grew back to its full size if it wasn’t felled by sundown. Since the job couldn’t hold his attention, Wu Kang never did keep on task to fell the tree in one day, so to this day, he’s still on the moon, chopping on the cassie tree.
The Hare didn’t fare so well, but is well-remembered. A hungry old man needs food. A monkey, an otter, and a fox, hoping to do a good deed, each offer the man some food, but the hare, knowing he has nothing to offer but himself, throws himself into the fire and cooks himself. The old man was really a monk, and in gratitude, gave the Jade Rabbit immortality on the moon, where he serves Chang Er even now.
Moon Cakes are the newest legend of the Moon Festival. It is said that in the 14th Century, when the Chinese were ruled by the Mongols and assembly was illegal, that those who fomented revolution passed their plans and instructions to the people inside moon cakes. On the night of the festival, the people revolted and thus began the Ming Dynasty.
The festival is at harvest time, a time of bounty, and celebrated by a family feast similar in spirit to the modern Thanksgivings of Canada and the USA. Moon cakes, filled with bean paste, meat, lotus seeds, or a few other popular foods, are both given and traded. It’s a time filled with joy. and the children love getting to stay up until the wee hours during the lantern parade–and are especially delighted if they get to carry a lantern in it.
I’m using the Chinese Moon Festival as a ticking clock in my novella, “Faery Hot Dragon.” It’s a time for lovers to sit on hilltops gazing a the moon. And perhaps other things. A perfect opportunity for a romance novel!
Whatever the season, have a happy one!
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