It’s Mid-Autumn Festival time aka Mooncake Festival here in the Chinese-speaking parts of Asia. When I lived in China, I mostly associated it with eating extremely heavy pastries (mooncakes ) and crowded restaurants. But of course there’s much more to it, as I was reminded in a conversation with a Malaysian Chinese acquaintance who grew up in Penang, a heavily Chinese part of Malaysia, in the 1960s. On the occasion of the festival, which occurs during the full moon, folks in her town would gather, eat a large meal and – in a tradition she recalls as ‘old fashioned’ – pray to the Moon Faerie.
Then this happened.
Or, as she put it to me: “Who wants to pray to an American flag?”
Now, this wasn’t a statement of anti-Americanism (believe me). Or, as some of my more logically-minded friends might assume, an instance of reason triumphing over faith. It’s just that where once there was a Moon Faerie, now there was a flag. Or, as my acquaintance’s mother was said to have put it: “Why would I want to pray to an American flag?” The reaction, I’m told, was not sadness but anger. To my ears, at least, it sounded as if an uninvited dinner guest had crashed tradition.
I don’t want to take this too far. I’m told the old traditions in rural Penang were dying out anyway by the time Neil Armstrong put his flag in the lunar soil. Far from being a myth buster, that man on the moon was more of an irritant to a culture that was still trying to maintain itself against ever-approaching modernity. Of course, in the end, everyone adapted, the festival is still celebrated, and more likely than not, a few folks still point their eyes heavenward, to the Moon Faerie.
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival from Malaysia.