I’ve been thinking a lot about camping as I prepare for the Mid-Autumn Festival on September 15.
I love sitting around the campfire with my family after the sun sets and the stars come out. We hold mugs of hot chocolate, nibble on s’mores and steal quick glances up at the moon high overhead. Knowing smiles accentuate quiet conversations and retellings of family stories about relatives near and far.
To me, the intimacy of these family moments perfectly captures the spirit of the Mid-Autumn Festival, even though there’s not a mooncake or lantern in sight.
I feel like Chinese and American holidays have similar building blocks: a focus on family, the changing of the seasons and storytelling that explains the world around us. Ironically, insisting on the strict observance of specific cultural traditions in the name of authenticity can make a holiday less accessible by obscuring its universal themes.
The Mid-Autumn Festival, for instance, is a harvest holiday similar to Thanksgiving. Families gather with gratitude for nature’s bounty and the gift of family togetherness. Lanterns brighten spirits before the onset of winter and parents whisper a tale about an archer and a beautiful maiden reunited in the light of the full moon.
Of course, this is only one version of the Mid-Autumn Festival that’s especially difficult to replicate if you’re strapped for time or don’t live near a Chinese community. More important than any single practice, in my opinion, is finding the space to honor the spirit of the holiday in your own way.
My suggestion? Read up on Mid-Autumn Festival themes and traditions, then create a celebration that feels natural for your family. If mooncakes don’t agree with you, try pumpkin pie. If you don’t drink tea, swap in apple cider. If there’s no time to make lanterns, hang café lights.
Whether you sit out under the moon this year in Boston or Kansas City or San Francisco, don’t miss the opportunity that the Mid-Autumn Festival provides. Enjoy the time together as a family, give thanks for all that nature provides and tell stories about joyful reunions amongst loved ones.
And the next time I find myself next to a campfire, I’ll be soaking in that familiar feeling of family togetherness and looking for a little magic in the night sky above.
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival, everyone.
Wesley Radez is the founder of ChineseHolidays101.com, a web site dedicated to helping families celebrate Chinese Holidays in the United States. The site has more than 100 family activities, recipes and crafts to help parents share Chinese culture with their families during holidays like Chinese New Year, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival and many more. He and his family live in Oakland, CA.