Traditional Fall Celebration Shines Moonlight on Cultural Understanding at MC
The most popular account of how the Moon Festival, a traditional Asian mid-autumn celebration, got its name involves – as most fairy tales do – a love story.
Once upon a time, a strong and courageous hero, Hou Yi, rid the world of its extreme heat by shooting down nine of the 10 suns that blazed across the sky. He married the beautiful and kind Chang E, and the couple settled down to live happily ever after. Or so they thought.
The Queen of Heaven presented Hou Yi an elixir that, if taken, would allow him to ascend to heaven and become a god. Hou Yi gave the potion to Chang E for safe-keeping, but the villainous Pengmeng found out about the powerful concoction, broke into the couple’s home while Hou Yi was away hunting, and demanded Chang E hand it over to him.
Out of desperation, Chang E swallowed the elixir herself, and while being swept away, attempted to fly to the Moon – the nearest place to Earth in the heavens. Hou Yi pined for his loved one, and to honor her, on the day of the full Moon, he prepared all the foods that Chang E loved. The custom was picked up by folk people who looked up to Chang E for good luck, and the Moon Festival was born.
This fable will be vividly reenacted by students at Mississippi College as part of the Office of Global Education’s Moon Festival, scheduled from 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 21, in Anderson Hall West in the B. C. Rogers Student Center on the Clinton campus.
Mei-Chi Piletz, executive director of global education at MC, said the celebration will include samples of tasty Chinese food – such as Chinese dumplings and Chinese Moon cakes – lively music and a fun program of skits and other surprises.
“This is a traditional fall festival that started in China and spread among other Asian countries, especially Northeast Asia,” Piletz said. “It usually takes place on Aug. 15 of the lunar calendar, the day when we have a full Moon.
“There’s no religion involved – it’s a family get-together, almost like a western Thanksgiving. Children and grandchildren living far away come home, the family will get together for a good meal, then gather together outside and look at the full Moon. Nowadays, people will go to a park, there will be activities, children will make lanterns and run around with them - It’s a very happy festival.”
She said MC’s version of the Moon Festival will provide an opportunity for Americans to get to know a little more about Asian culture.
“In the Office of Global Education, we want to embrace everybody and to help them gain a global perspective on various countries’ culture,” Piletz said. “We welcome people to come and get to know a little about the Chinese and Asian culture. I really believe if we know other countries’ culture, then there’s hope for peace in the world.”
To that end, MC’s domestic students are joining with their international colleagues to put on the program, which will include singing, dancing, poetry reading – and, of course, the traditional fable reenactment by Baptist Student Union students.
“We want everybody to get involved and have fun together,” Piletz said. “BSU students are always out there, reaching out to international students and helping them. It’s wonderful to see more domestic students getting involved in international programs like this festival.”
The Moon Festival isn’t the only activity that helps foster international cultural understanding on the Clinton campus. The office hosts a “Meet and Greet” to match international students with American host families – this month, about 40 scholars representing two dozen different countries will be placed with local families as part of the “Adopt a Student” Program. Every month, international and domestic students mingle with friends from the community at a “Global Café,” complete with coffee, tea and snacks provided by local churches. And each November, Fall International Education Week provides an opportunity for domestic students and community members to learn more about other cultures.
“We don’t just live in a small environment in Clinton, Mississippi,” Piletz said. “I always tell my students, both international and domestic, ‘Don’t be a frog at the bottom of a well.’ You can only see the bit of sky directly above you. It’s only when you jump out of the well that you realize the sky is so much bigger than you thought.
“We encourage them to see the world outside, meet international people and build friendships.”
She said that effort is in line with the Great Commission found in the Gospel of Matthew.
“We should go out to all corners of the world to share the Gospel,” she said. “It’s not possible to travel all over the world, and not everybody is cut out to be missionaries. We share our faith with each other, and it’s a great chance to show our love.”
Although the bulk of the Moon Festival celebrations will be taking place in Asian countries several time zones away, MC’s event will help draw the world a little closer.
“There may be a 13-hour time difference,” Piletz said, “but we all will be seeing the same Moon.”
For more information about the event, email email@example.com.