This post was written by guest blogger Alix Webb, Executive Director of Asian Americans United
According to ancient Chinese beliefs, the moon represented a source of life. Plants glowed under the moonlight, and as such, the moon became connected in many facets of Chinese culture. According to legend, Emperor Xuanzong discovered a Moon Palace, and afterward started to host celebrations connected to the lunar cycle. Family traditions in China have evolved over centuries, and now include moon-gazing and celebratory feasts at the end of the harvest season. After some time, the Mid-Autumn Festival became associated with other traditions and objects such as lanterns and delicious treats called mooncakes. The Mid-Autumn Festival is a time for family gatherings. The holiday spread to countries throughout Asia and is a favorite tradition for many.
In 1996, immigrant youth from Chinatown initiated the first Philadelphia Chinatown Mid-Autumn Festival. The youth felt homesick and missed celebrating the Mid-Autumn festival with family. Immigrant parents work long hours, sometimes seven days a week, and do not have enough time to cook a large feast. Youth noticed that it was even difficult to find holiday mooncakes in local shops.
Zen Vuong, a youth member of Asian Americans United, put it:
“As a child, I didn’t know anything about the Mid-Autumn Festival. Mooncakes magically appeared once a year.” The youth, though, recognized that “as bad as it is for us, it is much harder on the elderly in Chinatown.”
The youth immediately began preparing to “put on a festival for the elderly.” The first festival took place in the parking lot at the local church, Holy Redeemer. Though they expected less than 100 youth and family members to attend, more than 400 showed up.
This year marks the 25th Annual Mid-Autumn Festival. The festival attracts more than 5,000 participants. Youth volunteers, local artists, and business supporters work together to host the event. This year’s Festival will take place online due to COVID-19 safety measures.
Young adults and youth who attended the festival as children now lead the event. They have learned leadership and responsibility in this volunteer role. Today, our immigrant communities face many hardships. It has been important that the Festival tradition continues. Our community hosts the Festival to be visible, proud, and to share our culture with all Philadelphia residents.
On September 26 from 1:00 to 4:00 pm, logon to the virtual Annual Mid-Autumn Festival. There will be artist performances, craft demonstrations, story-readings, and celebration! Follow Asian Americans United’s Facebook page for event details.