When darkness fell, the fun kicked up last Sunday, as nearly 80 Brooks students and faculty gathered with our Asian American Association and astronomy club to celebrate the Asian holiday known as the Moon Festival.
"It was amazing," said Beijing native Tianshu Wang '19 of the annual event — also known as the Mid-Autumn Harvest Festival — held at the campus home of Deanna Stuart P'19, director of the archives and interim co-chair of the arts department, on September 23 from 9 to 10 p.m. this year. "We had the most diverse and excited group ever!"
The festival, that Stuart likens to an Asian Thanksgiving, is a popular holiday celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month in the traditional East Asian lunar calendar during which families gather to reflect on the summer, celebrate the legend of the "Moon Goddess," and wish each other good luck for the new season.
And that's exactly what the revelers did by the light of the moon and stars, snacking on an assortment of Asian treats while listening to poetry and students' stories about the Moon Festival.
"As an American student taking Chinese, my favorite part of the Moon Festival was getting to hang out with my Asian friends and classmates and discover more about their holiday that I didn't know much about," said Mia LaPlante '19, from Framingham, Mass.
Something that she and many other guests learned was one of the stories behind the festival. "The Chinese believe that there was once 10 suns and the world was too hot," LaPlante explained. "So a man shot down nine of them and that's why there is one sun. His wife was banished from the Earth, so she flew to the moon because that is the closest place in space to the Earth."
Stuart continued with the story, "His reward, an elixir which granted immortality, was drunk by his wife, who ascended to the moon. In most versions of the story, they spend one night a year together — the night of the eigth full moon of the lunar year: the Moon Festival."
Emilia Brems '21, from Koeln, Germany, appreciated the backstory. "It was interesting to hear about the history of the Moon Festival and how different cultures celebrate it," she said. "I also really liked all the new dishes I was able to try, especially the moon cakes."
Much like Thanksgiving, food is a big part of the Moon Festival tradition. At Brooks' gathering, students had their choice of Chinese dumplings, Korean Joo-Muk-Bob, Vietnamese Nem, Kim Chi pancakes, scallion pancakes, curry fish balls, fried rice and moon cakes among other treats.
Caroline Samoluk '21, from Andover, Mass., sampled moon cakes for the first time at the event as well, and declared them "delicious." Her favorite part of the evening, though, was the fun going on outside the kitchen.
Brooks' astronomy club had brought over telescopes and gave everyone the opportunity to look through them, up at the heavens, during the party. "I really enjoyed working with the telescopes and using them to observe the moon," said Samoluk. "Even though it was a bit cloudy, the nearly full moon with all the stars in the night sky was stunning."
Telescope gazing isn't a typical part of Moon Festivals, according to Stuart. But the event provides Brooks' astronomy club with an opportunity that she said students seem to enjoy. And she knows of what she speaks, having started Brooks' tradition of observing the holiday herself, roughly 15 years ago, after bringing her daughter Xiu Stuart '19 home from China. "It's gotten bigger and bigger over the years," noted the faculty member.
What hasn't changed is the focus on celebration and community, especially for those accustomed to spending the holiday at home with family. "It can be very emotional for some students to be away from home on the holiday," said Stuart. "This is a way to deal with some of the homesickness."
Indeed, last Sunday's gathering "touched me when I saw so many people having fun in a home thousands of miles away from home," said Wang.
"We have a lot more new kids from Asia this year, with all different cultural backgrounds," Si continued. "We have a student from Indonesia for the first time in a long time, a Chinese student who studied in Singapore, and someone who grew up in Japan. So it was very interesting talking to them about their experiences when we were planning the menu this year."
And by reminiscing and describing family traditions, Si added, "People found commonality between their cultures ... It was really nice seeing them walking around laughing and sharing their stories."
As for American students, those who take Chinese in particular, get a lot out of attending the festival, too, Stuart said. "They get to see something from their textbook come to life — and its really good food!"
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