The evolution of August Moon celebrations in Boston’s Chinatown

Boston’s Chinatown is one of the oldest Chinatowns in the United States. For those early immigrants who longed for home, celebrating Chinese holidays was a way to stay connected to their heritage. However, while Lunar New Year is almost always celebrated in Chinese-American families today, other holidays, such as the Mid-Autumn Festival, or August Moon Festival, have fallen out of Chinese-American tradition.

Beverly Wing of Tufts Medical Center grew up in Chinatown. As a fifth-generation Chinese American, her family did not observe Chinese holidays apart from Lunar New Year.

“My grandfather was born on Harrison Avenue in 1896 and his father was also a ‘jook sing,’ so our holiday celebrations may reflect that history,” Wing said. “Jook sing” is Toisanese for “bamboo born,” referring to Chinese born in America who look like “bamboo” on the outside, but are devoid of Chinese culture on the inside.

Long-time Chinatown resident Amy Guen also remembers August Moon as being a low-key event.

“I grew up in China during the [Second World] War and spent most of the time in boarding schools,” Guen said. “Back in America, I started living in the suburbs and only observed regular holidays.”

August Moon is traditionally celebrated with mooncakes and fruit as people celebrated the unity of their families under the full moon. To some Chinese Americans, however, mooncakes became less of a traditional, celebratory dessert and more of an unfamiliar, exotic fare.

“People did buy mooncakes from New York,” Wing said. “[But] for ‘jook sings,” those mooncakes were deadly and often avoided.”

The August Moon Festival is a public holiday in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Korea, but not in America. Because August 15 typically falls in September or October according to the lunar calendar — Sept. 8 for 2014 — when children will already be back in school. Boston’s Chinatown now rings in August Moon on the second Sunday of August, while Quincy celebrates its own August Moon Festival on the third Sunday in August.

“My memories were that there were no big community-wide celebrations of August Moon until maybe the late 1970s or early 1980s, when they started occurring on the parking lot between Tyler and Harrison Avenue, with all kinds of activities for kids such as carnival rides, activity booths, performances and much, much less commercialism,” Wing said.

Guen has fond memories of the first August Moon Festivals. “It was not until we began having August Moon Festivals in Chinatown that I started participating, bringing my children to join in the yearly fun. I think the first one was in 1970.”

Today, the August Moon Festival is a major event in the Boston area, attracting thousands of visitors every year. As Lunar New Year falls in January or February, New England winters can wreak havoc on festivities. August Moon in Chinatown is a great opportunity to enjoy the Boston outdoors while celebrating Chinese culture and tradition.


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About Ling-Mei Wong 黃靈美

Editor of the Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England 舢舨報紙總編輯。舢舨是全紐英倫唯一的中英雙語雙週報。
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