The nights are growing longer and cooler (finally) as summer draws to a close. The drama of the autumn will soon be upon us in all of its colorful glory. In the northern hemisphere – both east and west – this is a time to gather the harvest and to celebrate the bounty brought by the summer sun.
All agrarian societies have developed traditions and rituals to celebrate the harvest (the Washington State Fair is one such manifestation in the West). In the east, where the year is still divided according to the lunar calendar, the observance of harvest and gathering is intertwined with the phases of the moon. The mid-autumn festival is also called the Moon Festival. All over East Asia, the full waxing of the harvest moon is a time to celebrate family and the harvest. For centuries, the full moon associated with the Autumn Equinox has been an occasion for family gatherings, games, courtship, divination and moonlit feasting. Special foods like moon cakes and Cassia wine (wine flavored with flowers of osmnathus shrubs) are consumed. Lion dances and other entertainments are performed. The Moon Goddess/Moon Princess is celebrated and paper lanterns are lit.
All of this has come to Tacoma in the form of the Tacoma Moon Festival, the sixth edition of which will take place Sept. 15 at the Chinese Reconciliation Park (1741 N. Schuster Pkwy., Tacoma) from 1-7 p.m. The free event will be a celebration of the diverse population of our City of Destiny. There will be food and art vendors, hands on activities for children and adults, activities, tea tastings, a wine and beer garden and a steady stream of performers representing a variety of cultures on the stage of the Fuzhon Ting (the main pavilion structure in the park). The festival will conclude with the appearance of the Moon Princess, who will lead a parade of lanterns.
The Tacoma Moon Festival, first celebrated in 2013, is a celebration that goes hand-in-hand with the creation of the Chinese Reconciliation Park. The beginnings of the park go back to 1991 when a group of citizens and civic leaders formed the idea of building a monument that would address the cultural wound and sickness of the civic psyche caused when, in 1885, Tacoma’s leaders rounded up all of the city’s Chinese residents and forced them to board a train bound for Portland. The park is a memorial to those residents who were forcibly removed and is meant to be a place where the diversity of our civic population can be acknowledged and celebrated. The main pavilion was funded and built as a gift from Tacoma’s Chinese sister city, Fuzhon. (Ting is the Chinese word for pavilion – hence the name Fuzhon Ting.) The Moon Festival is part of the educational component of the park, in that it demonstrates and teaches key features of Chinese culture. Performers on the Fuzhon Ting stage will feature dance, music and traditions from South America, the Caribbean, Spain, Japan, China and Cambodia. Steel band music, Flamenco dancing, Chinese Opera with dazzling costumes and singing and the esoteric intricacy of Cambodian dance will all highlight some of Tacoma’s many immigrant traditions.
Moon or Mid-Autumn festivals are widespread throughout the ancient Chinese sphere of influence in East Asia. The festival is important in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia. Mid-Autumn and Moon Festivals are becoming rooted in regions where there are significant Chinese diaspora populations. The main theme of the festival is the gathering of family members and the giving of thanks.
The Tacoma Moon Festival begins with a Lion Dance and closes with the appearance of the Moon Princess. The Lion Dance, which has deep-rooted origins and comes in a bewildering array of variations, is a way to bestow good fortune upon the festival participants.
The Moon Princess, Chang’e, a figure associated with the elixir of immortality, has long been bound up with the waxing of the harvest moon, said to be the largest and fullest of the year’s full moons. Legend has it that there were once nine suns in the sky and the world suffered under their relentless heat. A heroic archer shot down all but one of the suns and was given the elixir of immortality as a reward. He hid the elixir in his house. While he was away, an evil servant tried to steal the elixir, but the archer’s wife drank it to keep it out of the hands of the evil one. Made immortal, she went to live on the moon (along with the Jade Rabbit) and her husband was left behind, spreading offerings of her favorite foods for her when the moon was at its closest point to the world.
Traditionally, the Mid-Autumn Festival coincides with the full moon nearest the Autumnal Equinox (Sept. 22). This year’s Harvest Moon is thus Sept. 24. Organizers of the Tacoma Moon Festival, however, chose Sept. 15 as the date for our version of the event. While the moon will only be half way to full on that date, it should be visible during the festival. It will be in the sky to the south, rising to its peak at 6:17 p.m.
The Chinese Reconciliation Park is one of the best new things that have come to our City on the Bay. The pavilion, the arched bridge and the sculpted gardens are an endlessly attractive part of the waterfront. The appearance of a festival celebrating the moon in this setting can be nothing short of magical.
Tacoma Moon Festival
Saturday, Sept. 15, 1-7 p.m.
Chinese Reconciliation Park
1741 N. Schuster Pkwy.
Mainstage Performance Schedule
- 1-1:15 p.m. Lion Dance
- 1:15-1:45 p.m. Cambodian Classical and Folk Dance of Northwest
- 2-2:45 p.m. Sabor Flamenco
- 3-3:45 p.m. Tacoma Fuji Taiko
- 4-4:45 p.m. Abacoco Steelband
- 4:45-5:30 p.m. Miho and Diego
- 5:30-6:30 p.m. Hwa Sheng Chinese Opera club
- 6:30-6:45 p.m. Moon Stories
- 6:45-7 p.m. Arrival of the Moon Princess — Photo opportunities for parents and kids
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