The Moon Festival, which takes place on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, is to the Chinese what Thanksgiving and Christmas are to the Western world–a time of joy, renewal and abundance. Families gather to watch as the full moon rises, eating moon cakes (round or rectangular cakes that come in bright red boxes once each year) and sharing stories and songs under brightly lit lanterns. One of these tales revolves around the origins of the Moon Goddess, for whom the festivities commemorate.
If you aren’t familiar, legend has it that ten suns encircled the Earth once, each taking turns to warm the planet’s surface. One day, all ten suns simultaneously heated the surface and threatened mankind. The Emperor commanded a tyrannical archer by the name of Hou Yi to shoot down nine of the suns. Hou Yi, who was capable of slaying any enemy or beast in one fell swoop, obliterated the nine and received a pill called the Elixir of Life as reward, with one caveat: he must fast for one full year before taking it. Hou Yi brought the pill home and hid it from his wife, Chang Er. However, he received the Emperor’s call once again and rode off to duty. Like the forbidden apple, the pill beckoned to Chang Er. She swallowed the pill and began to fly, much to the dismay of her returning husband. He attempted to catch her but was hurtled back to Earth by the force of the wind. Chang Er never returned to Earth, instead making the moon her personal fiefdom. She dances animatedly as the Festival rolls around, awaiting her man’s arrival.
On Wednesday, indulge your inner Chinaman and partake of the many varietals of moon cakes by celebrating the Moon Festival at the Heritage House. Glimpse Chang Er as she dances on the moon’s surface; listen to the legend of Chang Er and the Hare as told by Barbara Wong; and discover the art of Chinese calligraphy and tangram puzzle making. The Moon Festival takes place only once each year, so swing on by lest you miss out on a much sought after delicacy. (Nancy Powell)
Chinese Moon Festival, sponsored by the Riverside Metropolitan Museum’s Heritage House, Sept 26, from 6pm-8pm. 8193 Magnolia Ave., Riverside, (951) 826-5273; for more information, visit www.riversideca/gov/museum; admission is free