In the US we celebrate Thanksgiving as a time of abundance. Muslim, Hundu, Buddhist, Christian, we all celebrate this non-theististic holiday; and so too the Chinese is the Moon Festival. It's about the human experience and natural basics - honoring nature, and celebrating what mother earth provides for us. It's also a nice time to celebrate the change of season with friends, to let go of summer's heat and long days, and welcome in long nights and cozy clothes.
But what is the traditional Chinese cultural story behind the Moon Harvest festival? If we go way back, we have to talk about Chang Er, the goddess of the moon and how she got there. How did she get there?
There was once an immortal god who was banished to live on earth because he fell in love with a beautiful mortal girl, Chang Er. The immortal called Hou yi resigned himself to living on earth and became a skilled hunter with a bow and arrow.
At that time, there were ten suns that circled the earth, one at a time. They resided in a tree in the East, and daily, one would circle the earth. One fateful day, all ten decided to circle together, burning the earth. Seeing that he would lose his home and his love, the archer Hou yi took his bow and arrow and shot down all but one of the suns.
To thank him, the emperor had his alchemist make a special pill to grant him eternal life. But before he could take it, he was called away again by the emperor. Many days after he had gone, after Chang Er ate her rabbit for dinner, she discovered the pill and entranced by its light, swallowed it. She learned she could fly! Later, her husband came home and learned what she had done. He was furious. Frightened, Chang Er used her new magical powers and flew out of a window of the house, and up towards the sky. Hou yi followed her up to the heavens, but gusts of wind kept him back, and he fell down to earth again.
Chang Er arrived on the moon, and there coughed up the rest of the pill as well as the rabbit she had eaten, who was now alive. There on the moon, she made her new home. She commanded the rabbit to make another pill, and together they became the herbalists to the gods.
Today when we look up to the moon, we still see the rabbit pounding herbs to make medicine.
Hou yi, sad and alone, flew to the sun, to make his home where he could admire his wife on the moon from a distance.
Once a year, on the night of the moon festival Chang Er invites her husband Hou Yi to visit her on the moon. She prepares her home to be full of light and love, which is why it glows so brightly on this night.