The Mid-Autumn Festival and the Rituals that Never Escaped Me

The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival celebrates the harvest moon, which may include paying fealty to the moon goddess, a pale-faced abstraction with winglike sleeves. Even before my first Mid-Autumn Festival, I remember the worship of its deity. This did not yet involve the ritual devouring of mooncakes— the amazingly caloric, and gelatinous staple food of the holiday. Rather, it involved my siblings, and I crouched on the splintered wood floor of a gazebo searching for a white rabbit. My mother, the conjurer of miracles, told us that the moon goddess was tethered to Earth by a towering but non-threatening statue. When she was not on Earth, a plump white rabbit took residency at the lake. As children who whined for, but were denied a pet, we were thoroughly impressed by the furry creature.

My family’s monthly worships belonged to a Buddhist monastery in Upstate New York. We would grab fistfuls of loose change from the car’s cup holders and kick up the gravel path on our way to the temples. We scattered the coins heavy-handedly on marbled plates where ivory statues were erected. Attentively, we would drop any remaining pennies one by one in seemingly bottomless donation boxes⁠—I would lean my ears towards the abyss and was relieved by each hollow clatter. After our donations, we clasped our hands together and chanted as we strolled from tribute to tribute. The highlight of this excursion was the final stop at a white gazebo on the lake. We placed offerings at the foot of the porcelain moon goddess. The surrounding lake was always replenished with thick streaks of orange and white koi. Fondly, I still think of the expired cheerios we threw in, which were snatched hungrily by the overfed fish.  The koi did not belong there, but as children, we marveled at the consistency. What was artificial, essentially a lie had become something miraculous. As a way to occupy her wandering children, my mother instigated a search for the ethereal white rabbit. Monthly, we searched crouching and squinting through the cracks in the wood plane. We peered through the white barriers of the gazebo, into the weeds that grow in dry places expecting a flash of white to hop through. We searched only to be distracted by the koi, by my father telling us to gather for a photo or simply by our short attention spans.

A Multi-Purpose Dessert: Delicious, and can also be used to grease any creaky hinges.

A later memory that I have of the Mid-Autumn Festival did involve mooncakes. My mother would pay homage to the moon goddess, which in turn meant her children paid homage. It wasn’t a difficult practice by any means. We ate sliced melon and cubes of mooncake with toothpicks. Afterward, we would flatten our tongues against the starchy roof of our mouths, lazily tasting the residue of lotus paste. The moon was always full on that day, and I was drawn to the mysticism or “coincidence” of it. This phenomenon is similar to when children insist that the moon is following their car—which I also did. But like all anomalies, age wears mysticism thin. Now, I obviously know that the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on a particular day each year to meet the appropriate lunar phase. I also know there is no white rabbit. 

This year, the Mid-Autumn Festival fell on September 13th. I had not eaten mooncakes for years, but I still paid homage—to my family. I’ll admit, when I was younger, I was tinged with frustration when my parents impeded on whatever trivial thing I was doing to recite holiday greetings for a family member over the phone. Though, any feeling of slight annoyance was quickly abandoned after hearing the gladness of the voice at the receiving end of the call. I am idle during most of the Mid-Autumn Festival, but the practice of wishing my grandparents a Happy Mid-Autumn Festival is one that exceeds any ritual, which includes but is not limited to, the searching of a white rabbit. 

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