By Lauren Herber, Editor-in-Chief
Fall has always been my favorite season. It’s one of the things I’ve missed most since moving to Phoenix, where we live in an eternal summer. I love everything about fall: colorful leaves, warm apple cider, overcast days, cozy sweaters, hearty soups, fresh winds. To me, fall represents change and growth, likely because I associate fall with going back to school and embarking on new adventures. It was during the early fall season that I first moved to Boston, then to Spain two years later, and then to Phoenix two years after that. I’m originally from Indiana, and we go all-out when it comes to fall. I’m talking pumpkin everything, festivals and fairs, picking your own apples, and an endless array of reds, oranges, and yellows. This is my second “fall” in Phoenix, and I miss my favorite season dearly.
This year, however, I had the unique opportunity to celebrate my favorite time of year in a completely new way. I couldn’t make it to the Johnny Appleseed Festival, so instead I headed to the Pub. Rather than apple cider and pumpkin cookies, I munched on mooncake. Instead of the vibrant beauty of fall leaves, I admired the brightness and fullness of the moon. Thanks to my T-bird friends, I experienced a new cultural take on fall in the form of Mid-Autumn Festival.
“Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the four major traditional Chinese festivals,” Peng Gao (MAGAM ’17, China) told me. It is a traditional Chinese harvest festival celebrated widely in mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and by ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese all around the world. “This custom started thousands of years ago, and has finally settled on the 15th day of the 8th month of the year on the lunar calendar. The date is considered the middle of autumn, as the name of the festival suggests.” It is also called Harvest Moon Festival and Mooncake Festival, representative of the traditional festival treat and the time of year. “At this time of every year, it is usually the harvest season, so food is plentiful—perfect for feasts,” said Peng.
As Peng mentioned, this traditional festival has its roots in ancient history: it has been celebrated in China since the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-1046 BCE). The festival is a celebration of the autumn harvest and traditionally includes spiritual worship. “On that date, people from China will worship the moon, gods, and ancestors,” said Peng. This worship often occurs in the form of offerings to Chang’e, the Moon Goddess of Immortality. In Chinese culture, the moon is a symbol of rejuvenation, harmony, and unity, qualities that are present in abundance in the gatherings of friends and family in celebration of Mid-Autumn Festival. Today, the festival is celebrated not only by reuniting with friends and family, but also by burning incense, eating mooncakes, performing traditional dances, and lighting colorful lanterns.
Here at Thunderbird we celebrated Mid-Autumn Festival by gathering together at the Pub, where Peng provided mooncakes for us to taste. Sure enough, the moon was full and bright, and despite the homesickness I always feel when fall rolls around, I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to experience a little piece of China’s culture right in my backyard, and I felt a renewed desire to visit my T-bird friends in their home countries someday.
“Mid-Autumn Festival in China is like Thanksgiving in America,” said Tony Hou (MAGAM ’17, China). “We eat moon cake for the festival and make a very great dinner to eat with all our family members while we talk about what happened during the year and watch the moon together.” Lening Li (MAGAM ’17, China) also celebrates the festival with her family. “Moon Day to me is the time for family reunion. I usually have mooncakes with my parents, and like spring festival, we watch the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations on TV together.”
I also asked my fellow T-birds what the moon symbolizes to them. “In my mind, a full moon is a symbol of prosperity, happiness, and family reunion,” said Yan Ren (MAGAM ’17, China). “So to me, Mid-Autumn Festival means family reunion and peace.” “The round shape means ‘all together, not separate’ in China,” Jialu Yu (MAGAM ’17, China) explained to me. “And everything about this festival is rounded, like the moon and the mooncake. So all of the activities contain an element of togetherness, of being with family.”
It struck me that while my friends each said something different regarding what the festival means to them, all of them emphasized spending time with family. So I wondered: what’s it like celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival here in the U.S., so far from home? “Here in the U.S. it’s much harder to celebrate it. Sometimes we can’t even find mooncakes here. So instead we just gather friends together for the night to eat and drink,” said Tony. “Well, as an overseas student here, it is a pity not celebrating this festival with my family,” said Peng. “But I tried not to think negatively. As Professor Javadan said at the beginning of the program, ‘Welcome home, misfits of the world,’ I consider Thunderbird home, and you are all my family. We celebrated a bit together, and that cheered me up!” “I missed home, my parents, and my grandparents a lot,” agreed Lening. “But luckily I have friends here, and we can look at the beautiful full moon together, have fun, and share stories.”
Thank you, T-bird friends, for sharing your culture and traditions with us. How lucky we are to have a family at Thunderbird to share our heritage with, a family that accepts us, cares about us, and supports us, no matter where we are around the globe.