Moon Festival 2011

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Laying the tables for Moon Festival

This post is going up a little later than planned. Sometimes my internet connection is spotty, and it has been getting in the way of my posts.

Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, or Moon Festival, is one of China’s major holidays along with the Spring Festival and Dragon Boat Festival. In the lunar calendar, it falls on the 15th day of the 8th month, which in our calendar fell on September 12th this year.

The food associated with this festival is called a moon cake. Moon cakes come in different sizes but are generally pastry sized, with a very dense pastry outside filled with sweetened, um… anything. Foreigners like myself usually go for fruit filled ones, but there are also sweetened meat, fish, egg, or nut filled cakes. Some of these flavors are pretty novel to my tastes. A savory shrimp pie might sound good, but wouldn’t you find a shrimp doughnut a little odd? That’s what this is like, and I certainly did find it odd.

Class 3's "Matrix Pingpong" inspired act

For such festivals, our school has some traditions. There is a big meal served, followed by a variety show performed by the students, followed by karaoke on the school’s karaoke system. This year, class three (my class), put special effort into our variety show performance. We took our inspiration from the online video “Matrix Pingpong,” and choreographed a fight scene using the same blackout theme. We were very proud of the way it turned out. Other items in the program included choreographed dances, dramatic skits, and a performance on the traditional Guqin (a many-stringed plucked dulcimer-like instrument). It was a really fun evening that bridged all ages and several cultures.

Family

Before I came to this kungfu academy, I celebrated a few lonely, puzzled festivals in China. I was an outsider and had no idea what the festival involved. I searched for some intrinsic significance to the holiday, and found nothing I could grab ahold of. It made me reflect on our western holidays. Maybe they lack intrinsic meaning as well. The power of holidays comes from community, family, memory, nostalgia, and ritual. It’s not something to be understood, it is something to be lived. It is only with my new family here that I have been able to live these traditions.

For that reason, I think I have some advice for anyone seeking, as I have, to understand another culture: Don’t. I mean, read up, do your research, anything you like, but ultimately you need people who will be your bridge. Find something that is important to you, something that means enough to you that you are able to set aside your own cultural assumptions to get closer to it (this was harder for me than it sounds). Find people who are important to you, and give yourself to them. Only by giving up yourself will the culture you seek to grasp finally be opened up to you.