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Celebrating The Asian Moon Festival, Complications And All

The Lunar New Year, with its myriad of superstitions, can stress an American-born Asian like me. 

Oh no, I washed my hair on New Year’s -- I've just washed away all my good luck! I let my kid go to sleep on time -- there goes my long life!

The Moon Festival, on the other hand, is a lot simpler. In the company of the full moon, round lanterns are lit, echoing its soft glow.

Friends and family gather and share ancient stories of the Moon Lady and the Jade Rabbit. Golden, intricately-molded mooncakes are divided and eaten. It’s a quiet holiday, one of unpretentious togetherness.

But no matter what, culture is complicated. As each year passes, I find the holiday that was supposed to be less anxiety-filled has become more worrying.

It started a few years ago, when my then-three-year-old daughter tired of the ancient Chinese Moon stories.

“Aren’t there any others?” she asked.

And me, being who I am, obliged by making up new ones. Some were closer to the moon theme, but others, by her request, included very non-traditional elements such as magic chocolate chips. Which quickly opened the door for more changes. 

“Hey, since it might be cold,” my husband said to me before last year’s Moon Festival, “we should light a little campfire.”

“OK,” I said.

“And then we can roast some marshmallows, too!” he said.

“Marshmallows aren’t very Chinese,” I replied.

“You said we eat round, light-colored stuff for the Moon Festival,” he countered. “What’s rounder and whiter than a marshmallow?”

I reluctantly agreed.

“Great,” he said. “I’ll get stuff for s'mores, too.”


A campfire and roasted marshmallows.
Credit cyrusbulsara / Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/cyrusbulsara
Creative Commons / flickr.com/photos/cyrusbulsara

It’s these kind of additions that make me slightly cringe when I think about our observance of the Moon Festival. I worry that my Asian friends might find these non-traditional embellishments offensive, and that my non-Asian friends might actually think light-up rings are a part of the tradition.

But I remind myself that my family, just like everyone else’s, is full of idiosyncrasies, and those can be allowed to show, because even in the presence of glow-in-the-dark squishy toys, the timeless tenets of the Moon Festival -- gratitude, family and love -- remain.

Grace Lin is a Newbery Honor author and illustrator living in western Massachusetts. Her recent book, "A Big Mooncake for Little Star," was inspired by one of the stories she told her daughter about the Moon Festival. 

Grace Lin, a New York Times bestselling author/ illustrator, won the Newbery Honor for "Where the Mountain Meets the Moon" and the Theodor Geisel Honor for "Ling and Ting." Her most recent novel, "When the Sea Turned to Silver," was a National Book Award Finalist.
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