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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Festival of the Moon

Catherine and Drew brought us over some Moon Cakes sent to us by Drew's mother.  These are to be eaten on the Festival of the Moon, an ancient Chinese festival which occurs on the fifteenth day on the eighth month of the Chinese calendar, which, in case you mislaid your Chinese calendar, is tonight.  (Moon Cakes, I found out, ain't cheap, but Drew's mother is so generous and sweet; every time we turn around, she has sent some new delicacy or treat our way.)

The legend goes that a famous archer, Houyi, was rewarded with a pill bestowing immortality after saving the  earth from immolation from a flock of fiery birds.  He didn't eat the pill right away - which turns out to be a mistake - and his wife, Chang'e - stop me if you know where this is heading - ate the pill herself when Houyi was out running errands or something.

So Houyi comes home, and he's all like, "Hey, have you seen that magic pill I got for saving the earth from immolation?"  And Chang'e's all like, "What magic pill?"
Well, Houyi's no dummy, and he chases his wife, but it turns out, that in addition to bestowing immortality, the pill gives you the ability to fly, which, when you think about it, is just the sort of thing you'd expect.  So Chang'e flies up to the moon where her husband can't get to her, and in her excitement, coughs up half the pill.

(Cool story, isn't it?  It's got Cinderella beat all to heck.)

Anyways, the gods order Chang'e to restore the pill, and fortunately, she's already got half of it up there because she just spit it out.  Even more fortunately, there's a rabbit on the moon, and it's no ordinary rabbit, but an apothecary rabbit who happens to know the recipe for making pills of immortality.  A coincidence, yes, but the drug-making rabbit had to be somewhere.

So the rabbit set to work pounding herbs to make the pill, and given that rabbits don't have opposeable thumbs and there aren't many herbs on the moon to start with, the project took longer than expected, and in fact, hasn't been completed yet.

The Chinese celebrate this - why they would celebrate it is a question I would like to ask someday - by drinking tea and eating "moon cakes" as they sit outside and observe the glowing moon in the sky.  Moon Cakes are dense and sweet, and complicated to make.  They are embossed on top with Chinese characters meaning "Prosperity" and "Longevity."

So tonight, Nancy and I will sit on our back deck and drink hot tea - Drew's mother gave us traditional tea on an earlier occasion - and eat our tasty Moon Cakes with their lucky symbols, and pity poor Chang'e: punished for the folly of seeking immortality and the power of flight, now condemned to wait forever until a rabbit compounds a pill on the moon, while the rest of us, mortal and flightless, look up at beauty, eat our moon cakes, and silently thank those who love us.

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