Despite the festival’s name, it doesn’t feel like Mid-Autumn. It feels like the beginning of fall. (The festival came early this year.) The days are warm but there’s a cool breeze in the evening, the leaves are beginning to turn, and they’re selling apples at the market. The squash plants on the roof of the apartments below me are blooming. The daylight is slowly shortening, and the harvest moon rose on Thursday. I love fall.
Mid-Autumn festival is perhaps the Chinese equivalent of America’s Thanksgiving. The festival falls on the day of the full moon closest to the fall equinox, September 19 this year. It’s a harvest festival, and after Chinese New Year, it’s the most important festival of the year. For me in Dongying, the festival meant an extra dose of firecrackers, crazier traffic, and mountains of moon cakes.
It’s all about the moon cakes. Stamped with decoration on the outside, filled with thick, sweet mixtures on the inside. Bean paste and egg yolk, dates and dried fruit, sugar and sesame seeds. Some are delicious. Some are inedible. The packaging runs from basic to ornate, with corresponding prices. They’re sold in big boxes or in the supermarkets, in the markets, on the streets. They’re given to family members and respected elders, to business employees and supervisors. They’re re-gifted or eventually thrown away.
They’re the Chinese version of a Christmas fruitcake, some say, but they’re loads more popular. According to the Atlantic, moon cake packaging accounts for one third of China’s waste annually. One third: 40 million tons. In Hong Kong last year 2 million moon cakes were thrown away. The gifting of expensive moon cakes to clients is so out of control that the Communist Party restricted the use of government funds to buy moon cakes as part of President Xi Jinping’s efforts to fight corruption in China. Moon cake sales are expected to be down 20 percent as a result, but they’re still predicted at 2.6 billion USD. That’s some pretty serious moon cake business.
One of the things I like about living abroad is that you collect holidays. Come November I’ll be setting off some firecrackers of my own for Diwali, as well as scraping together a Thanksgiving dinner with the other Americans and Canadians in Dongying. Now I’ll be craving moon cakes on every harvest moon from here on out.