The Moon Festival is well known among Chinese and Vietnamese people as a harvest celebration, and the La Cañada Flintridge Library’s recent observance of the cultural event clearly captured that spirit.
For one thing, the library harvested a big crowd — about 450 guests who took delight in colorful displays, dances, cooking demonstrations and music performances at the lively event sponsored by the Chinese Club of La Cañada Flintridge, Cathay Bank and the Friends of the La Cañada Flintridge Library. That turnout was even bigger than the crowd at the library’s successful Chinese New Year celebration in February.
“That was huge, like 300 people, and we knew this one was going to be bigger,” said library manager Mark Totten. The Chinese Club approached the library about hosting the event, said Totten, who noted an apparent change in local demographics in recent years.
“Four years ago, somebody came up to me and said, ‘Do you have any books in Chinese?’” Totten said. “I’m like ‘No, we don’t.’ Now look at the community. It’s really changing and it’s wonderful. The city’s changing and we’re welcoming everyone in.”
According to displays at the library, the Moon Festival is an East Asian celebration with parallels to a beloved U.S. holiday.
“In its themes and spirit, the Moon Festival most closely resembles Thanksgiving among American holidays,” according to literature at the event. “It’s a time during the changing of the seasons to enjoy the pleasures of family togetherness.”
The festival’s origin has been traced to the custom of emperors who worshiped the moon every year, a display stated, adding that moon gazing was popular from 618-907 in the Tang Dynasty.
In Chinese belief, the display explained, a full moon is a symbol for a family reunion. Many famous poets wrote about the moon, expressing their homesickness in verse.
“When people look at the moon, it reminds them of their families and home,” the display said.
On the day of the Moon Festival, family members gather for dinner and enjoy mooncakes — flour-based treats with fillings such as lotus paste or red bean — while appreciating the celestial body, according to the display.
A dinner menu typically includes five, seven or nine symbolically significant dishes, such as a whole chicken, roast pork, fish, vegetables and rice. In addition to mooncakes and a tea service, the most common foods to include at a personal Moon Festival feast are round fruits like apples, pomelos, Asian pears, grapes, peaches and melons. Like all things Moon Festival, a round moon-like shape symbolizes family, unity and togetherness, according to the display.
At the library, children were able to create a variety of mooncakes out of Play-Doh and adults could watch demonstrations on making mooncakes.
One display shared a story about the jade rabbit, a common tale in Moon Festival folklore. The story is set in a forest where three gods pretend to be beggars looking for food. The gods find three animals — a fox, monkey and rabbit. While the fox and monkey offer food, the rabbit has none to give. Instead the rabbit decides to make the ultimate sacrifice by jumping into a fire. The gods are moved by the sacrifice and decide to make the rabbit immortal and allow it to live in the moon.
Sarah Quan, an 11-year-old who attends La Cañada Elementary School, said she enjoyed the program.
“I like how they played Chinese instruments and that was really interesting to see and hear,” said the 6th-grader. “I saw a lot of people from my school. I didn’t know there would be that many people.”
One of the instruments was the guzheng, also known as a Chinese zither. Angela Zhang, 12, played the stringed instrument to the enjoyment of a sizable crowd of children, parents and other local residents, who vigorously applauded her musicianship.
“I think it went well but I could have done better,” Zhang said afterward. “I think I maybe would have had slower strums and more precise placing of my fingers. When you don’t put it on the right string … it just sounds kind of off.”
Zhang said she enjoyed the event, and wouldn’t mind coming back and performing again.
“I like the decorations and it really gives a festive vibe that I haven’t felt in quite a while,” Zhang said.
Chinese Club representative Lola Dietrich, who helped organize the event, said the festival went smoothly.
“This time I prepared,” Dietrich said, noting that the Chinese New Year event drew more people than she expected. “We all worked together. I felt very good about the kids sharing their culture and bringing the traditional music to the community. I’m trying to bring these things for the kids to experience.”
Totten said the event was a memorable one.
“This is probably the biggest thing we’ve ever done,” he said.