Several days ago, my mother already reminded me not to forget to call my in-laws, “Don’t call them on the day of the Festival, not like how you do it in America, calling your friends ON their birthdays. You probably forgot that the real Chinese way is to call the day before. ”
I called mom and dad, my mother-in-law, and sister-in-law yesterday.
Everyone here has today off. My husband’s company gave each employee a box of moon cakes, a token amount of bonus money, and a Brita water pitcher for the celebration of the holiday. The stores have been filled with moon cakes of all shapes and forms for weeks. The convenience store around the corner had boxes of fresh fruits with delivery slips on their sides, ready to be brought to the doors of the receivers. Last week, there was a neighborhood concert on the track field of the elementary school.
The Mid-autumn Festival is a big holiday.
On this day, children come home to their parents with moon cakes and fruits, several generations eat meals together, have moon cakes, and believers go to temples or make wishes under the full moon. Friends send each other good wishes, these days by email or texting. After having received several pps with pictures of moon and ancient poems in calligraphy, citing, dan yuan ren chang jiu, qian li gong chan juan, “May loved ones be in love forever and ever, share the same moon even if thousands of miles apart.” I clumsily returned each email with my respect and all the while worrying that I might have left someone out. I have not celebrated this holiday so intensely for years. Back in America, this is just another working day.
I asked the children whether they talked about the story behind the Festival in their Chinese class. They did. To my surprise, their version has an evil in it while the story I knew is completely innocent.
Yes, the hero, Houyi, shot down nine suns to save the earth from being fried, and he left one so crops can grow and humans can live; True, he married a woman of heavenly beauty, Chang E, and my grandpa told me many times, her good look “sinks fish and makes geese drop from the sky.” Now comes the discrepancy between our versions: According to my son, the hero turned evil and the wife took the immortal potion that he got from one of the Gods, to prevent him from being an immortal evil. “Not true!” I argued, my grandpa said that Chang E took the potion to prevent the jealous rival of her husband from stealing it. “This is a big good deed”, he said (My grandpa would never use the word “love”, definitely not “sacrifice for love”!), “because she has to forever live on the moon alone where there is no human nor warmth, and the worst is she has no sight of an ending, because she is immortal.” My grandpa would always stop here and say, “If you look up carefully, you can see her shadow in the moon.” I always saw her.
Why the moon cakes then? Well, on this night, on which Chang E flew to the moon, her husband put out a table in the yard with offerings made of flour in the shape of moon cakes. They have Chang E’s favorite sweet fillings. When the gong struck the 3rd time after midnight, Chang E would fly back from the moon to meet her husband, just this once every year and so very briefly. For the rest of the year, they can only look at each other from the earth and the moon.
The kids had that look on their face.
I looked up in Baidu, which is Google’s rival in China, only to find several additional versions of the story. There is no chance for me to convince them that my grandpa’s version is the authoritative one. But I’d rather believe it is.
* The image is retrieved on Sept. 22, 2010 from http://zh.wikipedia.org/zh-hans/File:Chang’e_flies_to_the_moon_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_15250.jpg.jpg