Earlier today, I ran into one of my friends, Jingwen, who had done her makeup beautifully. She was wearing dark lipstick, and I thought it was a bit early to pull out the fall makeup palette, but she reminded me that today was the Mid-Autumn Festival. Shocked that it had slipped my mind, I returned to my dorm and thought that it would be a great opportunity to share a little story about this special occasion. Like many other harvest festivals in the world, there is a legend that lays out this tradition. The first recorded use of the term “Mid-Autumn” was used not to describe this festival; instead, it was a marker that emperors, who reigned in the time 475-221 BC, used to note the approaching harvest season. The moon on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar became known as the harvest moon, and people would offer sacrifices to it, believing that this would multiply the yearly harvest. This practice originated from the worship of the moon goddess, Chang-e. Chang-e was the wife of an excellent archer, Hou-Yi. They lived in a time when ten suns hung on the sky. Unfortunately, the suns were destroying the life and land on Earth, and people suffered and died from the heat. Hou Yi bravely used his bow and arrows to take down nine of the suns, ending everyone’s misery. The Queen awarded him a bottle of elixir that could make one person immortal. Hou Yi loved Chang-e very much, so, despite his desires to become immortal, he did not drink the elixir and asked Chang-e to keep it safe for him.
The news quickly spread that Hou Yi was the excellent archer who saved humanity and had received an “Immortal Elixir”. Many children rushed to become his apprentice and train under his watch, and he accepted almost all of them. However, one student, Pang Meng, had ill intentions. All he wanted was the elixir. Pang Meng lied to Hou Yi about being sick to stay home, instead of going on a hunting trip with his peers. He watched as the group followed the archer out to the distance, and he ran to Hou Yi’s house. Chang-e welcomed him into the house, but he immediately threatened to hurt her if she didn’t hand over the elixir. Considering her options, Chang’e knew that her only option was to drink the elixir immediately. She suddenly felt very light, and looked down to find that her feet were suspended in the air. Neither Pang Meng nor Chang-e had expected this to happen, so they did not know what to do. Chang-e had no control over her body as she continued floating higher up. Eventually, her flight came to an end, and she found herself stuck on the moon, immortal.
Hou Yi came home and was overtaken by sadness when when he received the news from the neighbors and Pang Meng. He tried to do everything he could to connect with her. None of his shouts reached her, and Chang-e painfully watched her husband collapse on the ground. He went into the house and came out again with a basket of food and desserts, placing it on a table under the moon. He hoped that Chang’e would come back to stay with him. The neighbors pitied him and made mooncakes that they set out on tables to help bring her back. Even after hundreds of years, people still eat mooncakes, an offering to her during Mid-Autumn Festival.
There are so many places on campus and off-campus that are perfect for night sky watching. The most well-known site is Tuttle Hill. (If you don’t know where that is, it’s past the large gray dorms, King and Weiland, and next to the Book and Plow Farm.) If you ever drive by the local farms at night, you can enjoy the starlit night while standing next to horses and cows. Next time you gaze up at a full moon, take some time to try outlining the moon goddess’s figure. And If you’re successful, you’ll find Chang-e and her friend, the moon rabbit. Last year, the International Student Association bought mooncakes for all to share, so I’m hoping that tonight, I’ll be moon-gazing and mooncake-eating.