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Mooncakes and Ministry

October 4, 2006

Liz & Doug Searles – China

We rarely see the moon in Chengdu, because it's a low-lying, cloudy and polluted city. We're hoping to see it during Mid-Autumn Festival, however. In China, families go out and look at the moon together, and think of loved ones far away or who have passed on. It's a moving and bittersweet celebration, punctuated by a family sharing of mooncakes--sweet round cakes of different sizes and flavors.

The long holiday starts with National Day, October 1, and extends through October 6. Stores have displayed beautifully decorated boxes of mooncakes for weeks, and families can be seen comparing their relative merits. Some believe that the fancier the box, the less tasty the mooncakes, and opt for the "generic" paper-wrapped ones. Others buy the fanciest boxes possible and collect them from year to year. Some families buy the same selection of mooncakes year after year. Uncle Li likes meat ones; Grandma Zhou likes red bean paste; no egg yolk for Mom, but daughter Yan Li likes egg yolk with black bean paste. Like that.

Our family likes the date and nut mooncakes that have a slightly salty flavor to them, and a thin, firm outside. We are not so fond of beanpaste in any color, and are a bit reluctant about the egg yolk ones. The egg yolk symbolizes the moon, of course, so these are the most sought-after mooncakes, and less sweet than the others.

For the festival, almost every family will share mooncakes. In traditional families, grandma used to make one huge cake with four layers of dough and fruit, nuts, sugar and breadcrumbs in between. Sometimes, sugared flowers decorated the top. In less traditional families, each person gets his or her own purchased mooncake. Eating mooncakes together symbolizes family harmony and togetherness, and some people find this a very symbolic experience.

It's a traditional Chinese festival, with stories and songs and poems to go with it. There's an interesting poem below by Sarah Zhang, a young woman from the Huangshan Pastor's English Training program where Liz taught last year. Her poem links the festival and ritual sharing of mooncakes, symbolic of harmony and wholeness in the family, with gathering around the table of our Lord. Here's her poem:

Mid Autumn Festival Dinner
sent by Sarah Zhang from the Huangshan Pastor's Training program

I give you this sweet moon cake
Its bottom is God's Peace
Peace to last life time
May it last your whole life through

In the middle is more blessing
Especially for you
Topped with peace and joy
Immanuel through and through

365 Days is what a year has
Praise the Lord each and every day
In each of the 8760 Hours
Draw near to him and pray

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival to all of you!

On October 6, go out and look at the moon and think of loved ones far away, and gather around your family table with new resolves for harmony and peace, in your family and in the world.

Liz & Doug Searles
Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Doug and Elizabeth Searles work with the Sichuan TV and Radio University in Chengdu, China. They both serve as English teachers.

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