Country, Family or Food?
What first comes to your mind when you see the word “home”?
The name of your country? The lovely house you live in with your family? Or simply the warm soup your mom cooks for you?
For me, the answer varies at times, but at least yesterday, it was the moon!
You may have known that in China, people use two types of calendar – the western/official one and the lunar one in the same time. The latter originated from thousands of years ago when almost everything revolved around nature and agriculture, naturally including marking the time. So in the lunar calendar, the period of the moon changing from eye-brow-thin to half-way-full on to pancake-round and then reversing the process is defined as a month. Is there anything similar in your culture? Or do you celebrate a special day in the middle of autumn when the moon appears the fullest?
That day is called Mid-Autumn Festival in China, the 15th of the eighth month in the lunar calendar. It is a time for family to get together, have moon cakes (a special cake shaped like a full moon with different stuffing, usually sweet) and admire the bright full moon in the night sky.
The Day is full of poetry if I think of it. Poetry written in countless works by ancient Chinese scholars with amazing beauty and subtlety; Poetry not written in the cozy air when mothers are holding little babies under the moon, or lovers leaning on each other quietly in the moonlight.
“When we are looking up at the moon, there is someone looking back at us from the cold palace up there in the distant world. Her name is Chang’e.” said my grandmother many years ago when I was having my favorite flavor of moon cake with red-bean stuffing. Like the story of Santa Claus in western culture, this Chinese young girl is a well-known legend in oriental culture.
“She lives there with her little bunny for many centuries now. She was once a young girl like you, living happily on the earth, but because she wanted long life, she stole a magical medicine, took it and flew up to the Cold Palace on the moon, where an eternal life was granted—yet with solitude. ”
I would always give a long stare at the surface of the moon, seriously trying to find the palace and maybe the girl stroking the little bunny in her arms. I believed I had seen it a couple of times, the shady and bumpy spots in the middle of the moon. I believed in this story for many years till I was older. Now I would think of my grandmother more who passed away a few years ago, rather than the girl living on the moon.
Because of all these connections to the moon running along our cultural line, you will now surely understand why yesterday was so special for me—it was this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival— yet a one without being with my family in China as I am now studying in Heidelberg, Germany.
My Chinese friends here and I still decided to have some small celebrations. We went to a Chinese restaurant in the city center and had the most touching meal I had ever had in the past one month since I was in Germany. The food was of Shanghai style, which is extremely close to that of my hometown, and the Chinese chefs and waiters there felt like family. After the dinner, we walked along River Neckar, a branch of River Rhein, which runs across Heidelberg.
Then there was the amazing brilliance of the moon!
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