Environmental Leadership Center
Warren Wilson College
Campus Box 6323
P.O. Box 9000
Asheville, NC 28815-9000
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By Casey Doyle
The Harvest Moon
I sat with two of my friends down by the dock. While it was nightfall, we did not need a flashlight to lead the way to the murky little pond on Warren Wilson’s campus. No, on that night the harsh artificial light that usually illuminated the uneven steps and rocky path, was outshone by the opalescent light of the moon. We sat there, with our heads flung back, admiring the serenity of this radiant sphere, our eyes perhaps as round as the full moon that captured our gaze.
I could not help but feel just for a moment, that all was right in the world. Perhaps it was the calmness of the evening, the natural atmosphere, or the presence of friends, but there was also something deeper; I felt some archetypal connection to the moon that evening, a sense of its great importance both symbolic and literal. I felt as though all people were connected by this mystical lunar power.
The next evening, now enthralled, I decided to attend Warren Wilson’s very own Moon Festival, hosted by the Asian Student Organization. Here, I learned that the moon I had been admiring was not an ordinary moon, but rather the Harvest Moon- the full moon closest to autumnal equinox. Wandering through the garden cabin, decorated with paper lanterns and full of traditional celebratory food, such as mooncakes, dumplings, and fresh fruit, I was pointed in the direction of DonPing Han, history and political science professor at Warren Wilson. He, I was told, could tell me all about the Moon Harvest Festival, and its roots in Chinese culture.
As I sat across from him at a picnic table set up on the cabin’s porch, he explained the basics of the holiday. The Moon Harvest Festival, he said, has been celebrated in China for over 3,000 years. It always takes place on the fifteenth day of the eight lunar month. The holiday is rooted in legend of Chang E, often thought of as a moon goddess in Chinese culture. Although there are many versions to the legend, Han gave an overview, explaining that Chang E drank her husband’s potion of immortality (usually described as a self-sacrificing action), and floated up to the moon where she would live for all eternity. Han told me, “on the full moon you can see her dancing; people look for her during the festival.”
It is no coincidence that a woman has such affiliation with both the moon and the holiday. In Chinese culture the moon can represent Yin- essentially femininity, and fertility. This is highly representational of the time of year, when crops are harvested, hopefully producing a prosperous yield. The Harvest Moon ushers in this prosperous harvest. Han explained that the holiday represents a time to harvest and plant new crops. This is why, as he further said, that “the Moon Harvest Festival is like our Thanksgiving.” He went on to elaborate that “In China, when the moon is full, it means the family comes together. You think about family, friendships, and community.”
As I left the festival later that night, the moon now high in the sky, I could not help but to reflect on the sentiments I felt the night before. What was it about this moon that made me feel so comforted? The moon has a cyclical nature- it knows when to show its light, when to rise and set. It cues us in as to when it is time to harvest, and when it is time for the seasons to change. Realizing the consistency that the moon provides, realizing that for 3,000 years the Harvest Moon has led a culture to celebration and harvest, realizing that there is proof of a wonderful natural order, gives much comfort in a chaotic world.