The Moon Festival, also called Mid-Autumn Festival, is the second most important festival in China, after the lunar New Year. It falls on the 15th day of the eighteen lunar month, right in the middle of the autumn, and just before the harvest. The ancient Chinese adored the moon, regarding it as auspicious. The celebration of the festival was recorded as early as in Tang Dynasty.
On this day, the moon is the biggest and the fullest, or yuan. Since it sounds the same as yuan as in tuan yuan – reunion. The festival is a big time for the family to get together. Like any major festival here, food is an important part. There is usually a big dinner in the evening, with all the family members present. It is followed by moon cakes, a full-moon-shaped cake filled with lotus bean paste or red bean paste.
This year, I celebrated it with a wonderful friend Donelle who lives in one of the few beautiful courtyard houses in the heart of Beijing, a very fitting place for the occasion. The dinner parties thrown by Donelle, a highly creative and accomplished chef (among other things), is legendary. And this one (Sunday Sept. 30) was especially memorable.
We started drinks in her courtyard. The full moon had just risen up in the velvety sky – it had been one of the rare gloriously sunny days in Beijing. Our capital is a very exciting and vibrant city with many not-so-pretty corners. But here at Donelle’s house, everything you look at is enchanting: the sloping titled roof, the curved eaves, the painted beams, the plants in the yard and the candles. And the moonlight added a romantic, almost surreal quality.
We didn’t even lose sight of the moon after we sat down for a stunning five-course dinner: we could still see it from the glass roof – the only part of the house which isn’t titled. Of course, the moon was the theme of the evening. As requested, I, as one of the two Chinese among 12 dinner guests from different parts of the world, told the stories regarding the Moon Festival. And we talked about some of the famous Chinese poems about the moon, notably Quiet Night Thoughts by Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai:
The moonlight glistens in front of my bed.
I thought it was the frost on the ground.
I lift my gaze to view the shimmering moon,
Then lower my head, and miss my homeland.
As I was getting slightly tipsy from the French wine I was drinking, I volunteered to sing a song entitled Paoma Hill, concerning a young couple falling in love under a new moon over Paoma Hill. Traditionally, the Moon Festival was the time for match-making. It wouldn’t be right if a beautiful thing such as the full moon isn’t linked with romance.
I regard my evening as highly romantic: a traditional festival combined with sensual pleasures and in the company of like-minded people. What more can one hope for a dinner party?