Monday, September 22, 2008

The Harvest Moon, September 15

Last year I decided to have a Full Moon Party partly to celebrate the Harvest Moon which occurs every year in September. It is also near my husband's birthday which gives us another reason to celebrate. This year I decided to make it an annual event and researched even further how other cultures celebrate the moon. I decided to pay close attention to all details just as a fashion designer doesn't miss a thing on any ensemble. The end result was a tribute to the Chinese and their celebration of the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival.
Here is some history... Celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival

The 15th day of the 8th month in the Chinese lunisolar calendar, marks the time to celebrate the (Mid-Autumn Festival)! The festival is better known to Westerners as (Mooncake Festival) and is not just a Chinese festival as it is also celebrated by Koreans and Vietnamese, known to them as Ch’usǒk and Tết Trung Thu respectively. This day is the next most important holiday after Chinese Lunar New Year and a time for family and friends to gather together, feasting on food and admire the bright mid-autumn harvest moon. The main delicacy of the festival are 月餅 (mooncakes), though aside from the food, the day will also see incense burnt and offerings such as fruit and whole steamed chicken offered to the gods.

Like most Chinese holidays, the mid-autumn festival is rich in oral history and legend. According to stories, Hou Yi was a tyrannical ruler who won the elixir of immortality by shooting 9 suns out of the sky with his bow. But his wife, knowing that the people's lives would remain miserable for all eternity if Hou Yi lived forever, drank the potion. The fluids made her lighter, and she floated up into the moon. Even today, Chinese like to think of the moon as home of Chang E.
In order to prepare for the Full Moon dinner , I took the children to Chinatown in downtown LA. I don’t think I have ever been, it was fantastic! The Thein Hau temple we visited was incredible with its colors and motifs and I loved the ceiling in this space. The use of red, orange and pink… lots of lanterns made everything magical. The attention that fashion designer Philip Lim pays to his color combinations and accessories is just as awe inspiring as color combinations that I saw in Chinatown. As a place of worship, I found many of the altars to have wonderful little shrines and many rich offerings. The packaging for Chinese incense is also beautiful. I did not have enough time to go everywhere, so we are going back again soon. There is so much to see in Chinatown and lots of good food too.

The history of Chang E, and the belief that she “floated” up to the moon has brought about the use of lanterns to celebrate the Mid Autumn Festival. They are symbolic in that children often use lanterns lit with a small flame that when released floated up in the air much like Chang E did when she drank her potion. (As a side note - while checking out all of the spring 09 fashion runway shows on a Betsey Johnson dress reminded me of the lanterns, airy and feminine.) As part of our dinner we needed lots of lanterns for our table decorations. We found one shop with paper lanterns in many colors. I used a combination of paper lanterns (lots of pink, coral and magenta and white) inside the house and strung elegant silk ones (off white, gold, turquoise and orange) over the tables for dinner. I used small electric tea lights inside so that they would not burn and as night time approached the table looked amazing. As center pieces I bought gold fish and created little vases on each table with multiple fishes and bamboo accents. It was a great party favor for the guests who each got to take a fish home.

The ubiquitous fare at any Chinese celebration of the Full Moon festival, mooncakes are a flaked pastry stuffed with a wide variety of fillings. Egg yolk, lotus seed paste, red bean paste, and coconut are common, but walnuts, dates, and other fillings can be found as well. Most have characters for longevity or harmony inscribed on the top. Special cakes can reach almost one foot in diameter. For the party I wanted each guest to be able to have a mooncake. So when I was in Chinatown I found Queens Bakery which was full of them and decided on lotus paste, red bean, green tea, and nuts and dates. I have to say they were not bad... kind of like a fig newton. The giving of mooncakes is a very serious business in China and as you can see they come in many different packages and colors. Depending upon where you buy a mooncake will also determine its price. Ours were $2.50 each but they can cost up to $500.00 from a top hotel in China. Along with the traditional mooncakes I had cupcakes made from my favorite shop, in many different colors to also add more fun to dessert.
As our guests approached the house the moon was just rising over downtown LA. It was big and full. Did you ever wonder why the moon looks bigger as it rises and by the time it is high up in the sky it is smaller. I included a description of what the Mid Autumn Festival was about as part of the place settings along with chop sticks and a fortune. The dinner was for 45, family style, sit down. I used my favorite Chinese blue dragon fabric as a table runner and with the fish alive and swimming it really was a great effect. Along with the moon and the celebration everything was perfect. Attention to detail was the fun part of planning this party. Fashion designer Gianfranco Ferré definitely did that for his spring 09 collection using plastic beads, discs, and paillettes.

I love a party with a theme and this one will be back for next year. Who knows maybe we will visit Thailand for dinner… and the full moon will be my inspiration!

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