Many Asian communities around the world will celebrate the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival on Sept. 10, but Lan Su Chinese Garden is starting a little early.
This weekend, Lan Su kicks off the festival with the Mid-Autumn Moonlight Market.
The two-day event at the garden grounds will feature a full schedule of food and activities from local Asian American and Pacific Islander businesses and organizations like HK Cafe, Red Robe Tea House, Japanese American Museum of Oregon, and APANO.
The Portland Lee Association Dragon & Lion Dance Team will also be performing lion dances on both days.
“It’s all about family getting together celebrating quality time,” says Venus Sun, senior director of culture and community engagement at Lan Su Chinese Garden.
The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is one of the most important holidays in Chinese culture along with the Lunar New Year. Dating back thousands of years, it is generally regarded as the East and Southeast Asian equivalent to Thanksgiving.
Families come together to give thanks and participate in various activities including lion dancing, fireworks, viewing lanterns, and eating traditional Chinese cuisine, like mooncakes, a thick, circular pastry meant to represent the full moon.
“The shape of the perfectly full moon represents a big family or loved ones gathering around a big round table sharing a meal together and then spending some good time,” Sun says.
People traditionally celebrate the festival on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, which follows the phases of the moon. This means the festival typically falls in either the months of September or October.
The origins of the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival are rooted in many myths and legends, but the most well-known is the story of Chang-e, the moon goddess.
“Chang-e stole the potion of immortality and flew to the moon to become the moon goddess. We believe there are moon rabbits making the medicine of immortality in the moon palace, which is the reason why we are going to do a moon rabbit lantern parade!” Sun says.
While the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is most associated with Chinese culture, many East Asian countries celebrate their own version, with specific customs, and traditions.
In South Korea, it’s called “Chuseok.” In Japan, it’s called “Tsukimi.” In Vietnam, it’s called “Tết Trung Thu.”
“Street food, night market and you would enjoy carrying lanterns and mooncakes,” recalls Sun, from her childhood days in Taiwan. “And it’s such a fun experience that nowadays we don’t see that anymore here.”
Here in Portland, Sun and Lan Su hope to recreate her childhood experience while also being respectful to other Asian cultures with similar holidays.
“We want the Marketplace to celebrate all AAPI communities, not just through a single lens,” she says. “Yes, we are a Chinese garden. Yes, we offer authentic Chinese architecture, culture, and botanical programs here. But at the same time, we want to be this welcoming space for people of all cultures.”