“The moon, like you, is far away from me, but it’s our sole memento: if you look and recall our past through it, we can be one mind.”
Saigo, Awesome Nightfall
After a fantastic four-day ‘moon gazing’ holiday, I was keen to share the hallmarks of this annual chinese tradition that appeared to permeate a sense of joy and serenity through the usually hard-at-work, frenzied metropolis of Hong Kong.
Sadly though, as the Mid-Autumn Festival (otherwise known as the Moon Festival or Chinese Lantern Festival) was coming to a close, tragedy struck right on our doorstep.
As they did last year and the year before that… locals and expats gathered along harbour foreshores; in very tall buildings and on boats of all shapes and sizes – to watch the ever-popular fireworks display that also celebrates National Day – the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Baby girl in bed, just as we did last year, we gathered in our bedroom to peek out the back window for the 15 minute showdown (if you perch on your toes you can see ‘most’ of the spectacle in all its glory.)
Little did we know just half an hour earlier, two boats had collided further downstream and mayhem was unfolding on Hong Kong’s waters.
A boat owned by Hong kong Electric carrying more than 100 staff and their families to view the fireworks had collided with a regular ferry. The electrical company’s boat sank within minutes and many on-board were trapped…some made it to shore, others didn’t.
At least 38 people have been confirmed dead and there is still an unknown number missing.
This is the worst boat accident in Hong Kong in 40 years.
A massive search and rescue effort continues along with an intensive investigation. How did this happen in one of the world’s busiest and safest ports?
So while tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents are back at work after a carefree weekend celebrating with loved ones, there are no doubt many families grieving with heavy hearts.
You can only hope the Moon Festival, at the very least, brought some of these families together for an ever-lasting moment in time.
As one of the most important weekends on the Chinese calendar, it’s not just about a couple of days off (that naturally we expat’s embrace wholeheartedly.)
Entrenched in chinese history for over three thousand years, it’s an auspicious occasion.
Originally, the festival marked the end of harvest season. These days, it’s a celebration of family.
BBQ’s are fired up in parks for family reunions and restaurants are overflowing as locals tuck into a feast – that is not a feast – without the customary Mooncakes.
Ubiquitous and indispensable the Mooncake is considered a delicacy – a round pastry cake (symbolizing the moon of course) not to mention a marketer’s dream!
Packaged up in fancy tins, on top of most mooncakes is a drawing of the ‘moon fairy’ and her faithful pet, the ‘Jade Rabbit.’
The story goes – according to one such legend – the moon fairy was originally a mortal named “Chang’e” who accidentally swallowed a magic pill allowing her to become an immortal.
Since immortals can’t reside on the earth, Chang’e left her family to live on the moon indefinitely. But life at the moon palace is a lonely and depressing one, so in hope of easing her homesickness, the other immortals decided to give Chang’e a magical companion called the Jade Rabbit!
From that time on, the two have never been apart.
So! In light of that, these moon cakes stamped with their chinese legends are snapped up in their tens of thousands and given as gifts to friends and family.
Depending on your palate, you’ll either love them or hate them.
Made of bean or lotus seed paste, almonds, sesame seeds, crystal sugar and egg yolk (often from salted duck eggs) they are definitely an acquired taste.
Weighing in at about, oh a thousand calories, you might want to abandon any thoughts of that pre-christmas diet.
If they don’t float your boat, many retailers are parting ways with tradition putting ice-cream or chocolate inside (now that’s my kind of mooncake.)
So, after many a mooncake, it’s time for a bit of ‘moon appreciation’ – an ancient Chinese ritual which dictates If you’re away from home you can admire the moon, hoping it will send your love and best wishes to far away family members under the very same moon.
As it so happens, ‘moon talk’ rates pretty highly in our house at the moment.
It’s fair to say my 20 month old daughter is quite fascinated with that luminous ball in the sky.
Considering the moon lives at nanny’s house in Australia (Hong Kong’s mass of tall building’s make it a little harder to spot most nights) it was with much anticipation that Ava set her sights on that big globe in the sky shining ever so brightly (in fact the brightest it gets all year I’m told!)
Suffice it to say, we weren’t the only ones doing a bit of moon-gazing.
Parks, playgrounds and beaches are filled with people doing a bit of lunar loving (in more ways than one) – history says this is also the time for ‘match-making.’
In some parts of China, dances are held for young men and women to find partners. Women are encouraged to throw their handkerchiefs to the crowd. The young man who catches and returns the handkerchief has a chance of romance. Many a poem has been devoted to this romantic occasion.
Adding to the romance, you can’t go anywhere in Hong Kong without seeing the brightly-coloured lanterns billowing from awnings and floating in the night sky.
They are meant to symbolise people letting go of their past selves and getting a new one, which they will let go of again next year.
As Hong Kong lowers it’s flag to half mast today in the first of three days mourning, let us reflect on the legend of the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Although the shining lanterns have now dimmed – the moon continues to shine brightly on those who’ve lost loved ones – a constant reminder we are not alone in this world, wherever we may be….
“The moon looks upon many night flowers, the night flowers see but one moon.”