Sunday, September 26, 2010

Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival

The Mid-Autumn Festival, "Mooncake Festival" or "Lantern Festival" takes place on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. A well-known Chinese poem captures the essence of this holiday: "Though far apart, we are still able to share the beauty of the moon together." Thus, this holiday is one of family reunion 团员. While we gather at the Thanksgiving table, the Chinese gather under the moon and eat mooncakes together.
The designs are very impressive, but if you haven't tasted one before, you're not missing much.

According to tradition, this day is the exact midst of autumn, when the moon is the most vibrant. Back in the day, emperors worshiped/praised/offered sacrifices to the moon. That's not quite what I did, but it was definitely a distinctly cultural day...

We didn't have classes on Wednesday, so after partaking in festivities with friends the night before, I dragged myself up at what at felt like the crack-of-dawn and went to say hello to Buddah...all 10 statues of him.
My host parents and me at the Jade Buddah Temple

I'm still trying to figure out the relationship between Buddah and the Mid-Autumn festival - afterall, we don't go to church on Thanksgiving. China isn't religious in the same way that the United States is. In fact, a Chinese student in my Comparative Culture class once asked if religion dominates US life as much as he's heard before - the way people in the US practice religion is a new concept for him. My host family opened this secret cabinet on their back porch to reveal Buddah, who was surrounded by "sacrifices" in the form of watermelon, grapes, and incense. I'd say China is more superstitious than anything else, but there aren't many outward displays of worship. Except of course, at the Jade Buddah Temple on Wednesday.

What I gathered from my experience was that people first bought sticks of incense and bowed in all our directions as the incense slowly burned away (when I did this, I figured I'd make a few wishes too), went to bow at three times at each of the statues, and then they threw a bunch of money on the stairs, around the Buddah statues, into statues way too high to reach, into iron bowls in an attempt to throw a large coin into a rather small hole for good luck (To anyone from CT, it's kind of like the game at the Stew Leonard fountain) -- money was everywhere. This temple was making bank today.
The lady in the picture is not trying to steal money, but rather, she believes that if she rubs the iron then touches a strained muscle, Buddah will heal it, or if she touches her face she will become more beautiful. Buddah is pretty powerful.

I was the only foreigner where on other days this would be tourist destination (it's even in my guidebook). No admission today though. Woo!
Another way to get people to give money to the temple
That is not a special/trick surface, and it doesn't work just because Chinese coins are lighter than those in the US. I happened to have some US change with me back at the house, so I tried this again on a marble surface and the magic still happened. Cool, right?

The rest of my holiday is detailed in the last post. We didn't light any lanterns, and the weather wasn't good for moon watching, but I did finally find a mooncake flavor that I liked.

Bad Translation of the Day

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