Today is Mid-Autumn Festival, a major holiday on the lunar calendar. Growing up in Chinese culture, we also called it Harvest Moon Festival or Chinese Thanksgiving. It happens on the 15th day of the 8th month of the year, a full moon. And for us, it’s the second most important holiday after Chinese New Year.
This year, Harvest Moon Festival feels extra special (at least to me) because it’s so close to Thanksgiving in Canada. Even though I was born here, my parents are from Hong Kong, so I celebrated Harvest Moon before I even knew what Western Thanksgiving actually was, although we observe it the same way – with loved ones, a lot of food, and hopes for a good harvest in the coming season.
When I was a kid, my ma, the Chinese Squawking Chicken, knowing that I would be raised in Canada and influenced by the Canadian lifestyle, always made a point of keeping me connected to my Chinese heritage, mostly through storytelling. The Harvest Moon mythology has always been one of my favourite legends.
One year, 10 extra suns rose in the sky and they scorched the earth. The heat was unbearable, the people were suffering. But our Hero was an archer and he used his arrows to shoot down 9 of those suns, leaving the original, the only one we need. The Queen rewarded Hero for his efforts with an immortality elixir which he chose not to take because he loved his wife, Angel, so much, he didn’t want to leave her behind. He gifted the elixir to her instead. When the Enemy found out that Angel had the magic potion, he waited until Hero left the house one day and broke in to steal it from her. She refused to hand it over, but she also knew that she couldn’t defend herself. So she opened the seal, tipped her head back, and drank the entire bottle. (My ma always acted this part out dramatically, her red nails flicking open a perfume bottle, pretending to sip from it with a raised pinky.) Angel was immortal. But she didn’t want to be too far away from Hero. So instead of going to Heaven, she took up residence on the moon. And when Hero came back and found out what happened, he dedicated the rest of his life to worshipping his Angel on the moon, creating a shrine to her in his garden, full of food and cakes and flowers, and the people were so impressed by the monument and his dedication to her that they began celebrating her as well.
Harvest Moon was a tale of sacrifice and devotion. My ma, ever the narcissist, also turned it into a story of a mother’s presence. “I am the Angel on the moon”, she’d say. “I can always see you.” You’re not old enough to question the logic until it’s too late, until the legend has taken hold and no amount of rationalisation can shake your conviction that you can’t escape your mother’s eyes. Then, later, it becomes comfort. May we all have someone who loves us, watching from the moon.
Happy Harvest Moon to all of you.
Yours in gossip,