Celebrating the Moon Festival in Second Life

Fellow blogger and Second Life traveller Annie Brightstar directed my attention, through Twitter, to Moon Festival 2016 in Second Life. A region by Heike Kitsuyagi (Kathrine Hoxley), it offers a glimpse into the Mid-Autumn Festival, also referred to as the Moon Festival, celebrated in many parts of the far east.  Given my love of all things oriental, I decided to hop over and take a look.

For those unfamiliar with it, the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. For 2016, this put it at September 15th, while for 2017 it will fall on October 4th. Simply put, it one of the most important dates in the lunar calendar, and is celebrated by Chinese people the world over. It’s a time when families get together to make offerings of wine flavoured with osmanthus, pears, grapes, pomegranates and mooncakes to the heavens, to express gratitude for a bumper harvest as well as enjoy a reunion with relatives who live far away.

Moon Festival 2016, which opened on October 1st, both celebrates the festival and offers a shopping event to visitors. The rural-style traditional Chinese and Japanese buildings contain little stores, with more open-air market style stalls offering goods, games and refreshments. As the Moon Festival is celebrated so widely (China, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam in particular, with Japan and Korea having similar harvest celebrations of their own), this blending Chinese and Japanese styles in the buildings is not the least bit jarring; rather the reverse: it feels appropriate.

It’s a place where wooden buildings sit on the banks of a river, with dirt tracks for streets running under strings of lanterns, golden-brown leaves falling from the boughs trees. The entire setting, bringing together traditionally style building with modern lighting, gacha machines and vendors, helps to give a sense of the long history of the festival.

Within a small garden in the town sits a dragon, reflecting one of the popular elements of the festival, the Fire Dragon Dance, a tradition dating back to the  19th century, when the people of Tai Hang village were said to have miraculously stopped a plague with just such a dance. Games are a popular part of the Moon Festival – I can still remember playing the “King Toad” game with other kids in our quarters in Hong Kong (which was really an excuse for us to play with water and get soaked!) – and games are to be found within the region as well.

Beyond the town, the track rises up a sudden slope to a small temple where thanks can be offered, while between the trees little houses sit in quiet solitude. Wander down to the river and you’ll see lanterns floating on the water and surrounding little sampans as a harvest moon slowly rises from behind tall peaks, brightly reflecting the light of a setting sun.

There’s an ancient Chinese song-poem, the Shuidiao Getou, the final stanza of which can often be quoted in full or in part during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Given my visit to Moon Festival 2016, it seems appropriate to close this piece by quoting that final stanza in full.

People experience sorrow, joy, separation and reunion,
The moon may be dim or bright, round or crescent-shaped,
This imperfection has been going on since the beginning of time.
May we all be blessed with longevity,
Though thousands of miles apart, we are still able to share the beauty of the moon together.

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