By Ellen Duong
Many Chinese families who immigrate to the United States drop several of their country’s traditions in an effort to assimilate to American culture and society. As a result, some first-generation Chinese children grow up very Westernized, having little knowledge about their ethnic roots. Although they may celebrate Lunar New Year, other major Chinese holidays such as the Mid-Autumn Festival and the Dragonboat Festival are unknown to them. Since the August Moon Festival is just around the corner, I interviewed three first-generation Chinese Americans on how they observed this holiday in the United States.
“My family is more traditional than most, so we’ve always celebrated August Moon,” said Karl Dong, a first-generation Chinese American from Quincy, Mass. “We get together at a round table for dinner, eat mooncakes, drink tea and look at the moon. It’s a family thing. I see it as Chinese Thanksgiving.”
Justin Fang, another Chinese American, also celebrated this holiday during his childhood by eating mooncakes with his family. He said, “August Moon was a big thing when I was a kid. It had a Chinese New Year feel. It was the only other Chinese holiday that we celebrated. I grew up around Boston, so when [my brothers and I] were younger, we’d go see the August Moon Festival in Chinatown. Now that everyone is older and busy, we don’t really do anything anymore.”
When asked about whether they knew about the history or folklore of the holiday, however, both were unable to answer with certainty. “I’m not really sure; I think it has something to do with the harvest season,” said Fang, while Dong admitted that he has always wondered about why many mooncake boxes featured a goddess and a white rabbit.
“The problem is that August Moon is not an official holiday in America,” stated Boston resident Kim Chan. Chan grew up in Hong Kong, but has lived in the States for over 40 years. “American schools don’t teach students about August Moon as they teach them about Thanksgiving or Christmas. Also, in China and Hong Kong, people get the day off, so it is easy for family and friends to get together and celebrate.” She also pointed out that because mooncakes are available year-round in Asian bakeries in Chinatown, “people don’t really see it as anything special. In China and Hong Kong, you could only get mooncakes during August Moon.”
Dong, Fang and Chan have all been to the August Moon street festivals in Chinatown or Quincy. Chan is a volunteer and board member of Quincy Asian Resources Inc. (QARI), which is responsible for organizing the event in Quincy. They all remarked that the street festivals provided a great venue and a fun atmosphere for people of all ages to get together. “From what I remember,” said Fang, “there was a crowd of people and lots of vendors selling all sorts of things and food. I distinctly remember a lady selling these egg pastries. They were delicious.”
Dong commented fondly about the exciting performances and lion dances. “I really enjoyed watching the traditional fan dances and listening to the Chinese opera music.” However, Dong wished that there were more plays to help her better understand the folklore and history behind August Moon. “I feel like the festivals in Chinatown and Quincy provide a great opportunity to learn about Chinese culture, but I still leave with many questions … like why is it called the ‘Moon Festival?’”
Chan also remarked on how the August Moon Festivals provided a great venue to spread Chinese culture. “I’ve noticed that more and more non-Asian people are participating,” said Chan. “People are more in tune to understanding Chinese culture. It’s getting more and more popular, and we are expanding. Each year, we have a bigger space, and we are enriching our content.”
All agreed that the street festivals played an important part in helping them remember the Chinese holiday, especially now that these events are publicized on social media. “But it’s also the food,” Chan said. “People remember August Moon because of the food.”
“More than anything,” said Fang, “when I see a mooncake, that’s when I know it is August Moon Festival time.”
This year, the August Moon Festival will be held on Sunday, August 10, in Chinatown and Sunday, August 17, in Quincy.