As fond memories of Chinese culture embrace the Alaskan community, curious people from all from over celebrate the traditions and legends of the Chinese Moon Festival.
Throughout September, the UAA Confucius collaborated with the Alaskan Chinese Association in order to celebrate the Chinese Moon Festival throughout the state of Alaska. Also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, these celebrations often coincide with the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. As one of the most important festivals in the Asian culture, it was eventually introduced to Anchorage when the Chinese population began to grow in the area.
Robyn Lin, an instructor at Begich Middle School remembers the moon festival fondly as she recalls late evening picnics with her grandmother and strolling along the fields with candle-lit Chinese lanterns. Sometimes, she would play games with her siblings, to see how many times they could twirl the lanterns without catching fire. Yet after one spin, the flames usually started to flicker through the paper. In which case, they had to stomp it out with their feet.
Another, tradition is the sharing the mooncake, which represents unity and family. Mooncake is a dessert is often made as a pastry, and the center is traditionally made with the yolk from a duck egg.
This pastry is what Music Education major David Chen remembers most about celebrating the Chinese Moon Festival.
However, not everyone remembers the food fondly.
“I think the reason why some people don’t like it is because of the egg yolk,” Chen said. “I don’t think I know any of the desserts here that put the egg yolk in it.”
UAA Confucius Institute Director Annie Ping Zeng said bakers often hide a coin in one of the pieces of more elaborate mooncakes.
“Whoever gets the piece with the coin will be the lucky one,” Zeng said.
The mooncake is often shared between family members and relatives. The size of the mooncake usually depends on the size of the family.
According to Chinese folklore, the legend of the Chinese Moon Festival changes with the ages. Like most stories, there are many variations that can be told.
It is one of the most recognized legends of the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Feng Chen, a volunteer teacher at the Confucius Institute, told the story at Barlett High School’s Chinese Moon Festival celebration.
The legend begins in an ancient dynasty, a time where 10 suns sat comfortably in the sky, scorching the earth and boiling the seas. As each heat wave came after another, the emperor called upon a heroic archer named Hou Yi to shoot them out of the sky.
Hou Yi climbed to the top of a mountain and shot down nine of the 10 suns with his arrows, saving the people on Earth. As a reward, he was given an elixir that would grant him immortality.
He arrived home and gave the elixir to his wife, Chang’e, to put away for safekeeping. Yet, for some mysterious reason, she decided to try some of this magical potion for herself. As she tilted the bottle to her mouth, the tonic came down too fast for her to stop the flow, and she ended up taking too much.
The consequences of this overdose started to take effect, and soon her body began to rise in midair. She continued to rise and called out for her husband to help her down. However, when Hou Yi finally saw her, she was too high for anyone to bring her down. He thought he could help by using his archery skills, but he couldn’t stomach the thought of shooting an arrow at the woman he loved.
Chang’e started to float into the atmosphere and soon came to the moon, where she’s been ever since. Legend has it that this “Lady in the Moon” is still there today, trying to find a way back home.