Mooncake and tea

Tonight is the Mid-Autumn Festival (or Moon Festival), one of the biggest Chinese holidays that I still love celebrating. Much like the seven-day Jewish holiday Sukkot and the autumnal equinox, the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrates the fall harvest and a new season's bounty.

As marked by the Chinese lunar calendar, the holiday always falls on a night with a full moon, which is always at its biggest and brightest. The moon is an important part of the holiday because it symbolizes abundance, beauty, luck, and harmony between friends and family, as they gather under the night sky.

In East Asia, the outdoor festivities involve barbecues, lanterns, and incense, but one thing always stays the same: eating mooncakes and drinking green tea under the night sky. Mooncakes are round pastries that can be sweet or savory, differing by taste, color, texture, and filling depending on the region. But almost all the mooncakes are stuffed with a perfectly round egg yolk, to call more attention to the moon.

I look forward to the Mid-Autumn Festival every year because its arrival means three things to me: 1) Indulging in mooncakes, a rare annual treat; 2) Welcoming the fresh energy (and hope) that comes with a new season; and 3) Reconnecting with my Chinese heritage. I was born in Taiwan, but I moved to the U.S. at a young age. Although English is technically my second language, it has become my first -- one that I think in, speak in, and write in on a daily basis. My childhood was spent adapting to the American language, education system, dress, and way of life. Even though I have a mostly westernized personality, I am proud to retain an easternized part (however small it may be). With my parents, I still speak Mandarin Chinese, I have kept my Chinese name, and I am not traumatized by seeing chicken feet on the table at dim sum.

Although I may not know the complexities of the Mid-Autumn Festival's origins or the nuances of the different Chinese myths and fairy tales surrounding it (...something about a rabbit living on the moon), I can still understand the cultural importance of being part of a bigger community, one that values reunion and relaxation. I am also reminded to be thankful for my parents, who could have decided to forget about the holidays. Instead, they realized that keeping certain aspects of my original culture and ethnicity was vital in helping me understand my history and shape my core self.

So as the chill tiptoes back into the air tonight and the sky descends into darkness, you'll find me beneath the moon -- snacking on pastries and remembering to be grateful for having a childhood that still honored my Chinese roots.

Share with me: What aspects of your ethnicity, heritage, or cultural background have you retained for yourself or your family?

Image: Mooncake and tea, via Shutterstock