Claudine Cheng always remembered the colorful lanterns of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Growing up in Hong Kong, she recalled how much the children enjoyed lighting the lanterns as part of the fun surrounding the festival.
These days, Cheng views the lanterns as a larger part of the preservation of cultural heritage. "When we look at the tapestry and what becomes Asian Pacific American, so many ethnic groups bring their own unique sounds and lights and colors and makes up the APA family," Cheng, founder and president of San Francisco's Asian Pacific American Heritage Foundation, told NBC News. "I think the lanterns are a great example of this light and color."
The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon or Mooncake Festival, is an annual celebration that takes place on the night of the full moon during the eighth month in the lunar calendar. The centuries-old holiday is traditionally celebrated by Chinese and Vietnamese communities from the U.S. to China to Vietnam, and allows families and friends to gather for the harvest.
Festivities include lighting lanterns and sharing food, particularly mooncakes.
Different variations of the folklore behind celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival exist and have changed as stories were passed through generations. In one version told last Saturday at New York City’s Museum of Chinese in America, archer Hou Yi and his wife Chang’E lived in a time when 10 moons and 10 suns orbited the earth. Hou Yi was given the task of shooting down nine suns and nine moons, and as his reward, took an elixir of immortality.
Without knowing what the vial held, Chang’E made a mooncake with that liquid and as soon as she ate it, she floated up to the moon while her husband remained on the earth. Because she could not leave the moon, legend has it that Hou Yi visits his wife when the moon is full and at its brightest.
Along with storytelling, more than 200 participants at Saturday's family festival event at the Museum of Chinese in America also participated in mooncake tastings, made shadow puppets, and created paper lanterns.
"The festival is providing inclusion, diversity, creating opportunity for us to collaborate with local artists and performers to showcase their talents and arts," said Sophie Lo, public programs and marketing associate at the museum. "It provides a space for a body of people from different backgrounds to come together and learn together through tradition, family, friends, food, and art."