Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Asian Student Groups Host First On-Campus Mid-Autumn Festival

By Jennifer Chen The Daily Northwestern

Last year, nothing special happened on Sept. 18 – which is exactly why Communication junior Michelle Tsao still remembers the date.

As the 15th day of the eighth month on East Asian lunar calendars, Sept. 18 was more than just another day for Tsao and Asians around the globe. It was the Mid-Autumn Festival, a holiday of harvest, reunion, colorful lanterns, moon cake and watching the full moon.

The event is is like Thanksgiving for Asians, and as far as Tsao could see, no one at Northwestern was doing anything about it.

This year, however, the Chinese Students Association’s external president made sure the holiday wouldn’t be remembered the same way.

At 9 p.m. Friday, NU had its first on-campus Mid-Autumn Festival celebration. The event – hosted by the Chinese Students Association, Hong Kong Students Association and Northwestern Singaporeans and Friends – was held at the Multicultural Student Affairs Center.

“I thought it was a good opportunity to organize something so people wouldn’t feel left out,” said Tsao. “Our families are celebrating this at home, and we’re not, but this way we can bring a little bit of Asia back to campus. It’s just for people to come and have fun, or learn about Chinese culture and see that it’s not just about General Tso’s chicken and fortune cookies.”

With the center as the festival grounds, more than 70 students gathered to chat, play mah-jongg and snack on moon cake and other customary Mid-Autumn Festival foods. Later that night, groups wandered out to the Foster-Walker Complex front lawn to light lanterns under the bright full moon.

Most attendees grew up celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival, although there were a few, such as McCormick sophomore Jesse Benck, who wandered over out of interest.

Standing on the Foster-Walker lawn, lantern in hand, Benck said he had never heard of the holiday before the event but liked what he had seen so far.

“I like this too,” Benck said, nodding at his lantern. “I don’t really know what it’s for, but I like it.”

Although lanterns and moon cakes are in ready supply in Chinatown, leaders of the three participating groups instead hand-carried the items back from Asia, while others asked their parents to ship boxes over just for the occasion. Chinatown moon cakes would have been fine, said HKSA president and Medill junior Penny Lau, but “not the same.”

It sounds like a lot of fuss over a little cake, Lau said, but fist-sized, paste-filled and with more calories than a Big Mac, the moon cake is a central part of the age-old holiday.

Moon cakes, besides their circular shape, are so named because of the golden, orb-like egg yolk at their center. They are miniatures of the moon, which is what the festival is all about.

Holiday folktales tell of stories of people and animals inhabiting the moon, such as that of the Sisyphus-like woodcutter who must cut trees on the moon as eternal punishment. Other tales are historical. One tells of legendary Chinese rebels who distributed moon cakes with revolution plans baked inside them during Mid-Autumn Festival and later recaptured the government from the Mongols.

In modern times, however, the holiday has become less about legends and more about bringing people together, Lau said.

“The meaning of the festival is to give you a chance to share time with your family,” she said. “The only difference now is that we’re sharing with friends.”

Reach Jennifer Chen at [email protected].

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Asian Student Groups Host First On-Campus Mid-Autumn Festival