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By Jack YU Cher Chan (Alumni Civility Hall)

When one thinks of the mid-autumn festival, one often remembers only mooncakes and lanterns. It’s inevitable, seeing that it is nicknamed the “Mooncake Festival”. But mooncakes and lanterns are not really what the festival is all about.

Traditionally, the mid-autumn festival is one of the biggest festivals in the year in Hong Kong, where family members gather to celebrate unity among the family. It falls on the day when the moon is at its fullest and brightest according to the lunar calendar, the day in the middle of the autumn season. Everyone gathers around a round table filled with food that is round in shape, mooncakes and pomelos for example, symbolising the reunion of family members, as the characters for round and union are the same in Chinese (圓).pomelo

But under commercial influence and for various other reasons, the significance of other elements during the mid-autumn festival has diminished over the years, leaving mooncakes and lanterns to enjoy the limelight. This year, by chance, I happened to get my hands on a pomelo and after peeling the fruit, I held the skin (still in its original shape) throughout the Joint-Hall Mid-autumn Festival Celebrations.

It was an interesting experience, for me and for a lot of the other students (mainly exchange and international students) who approached me and asked about the fruit in my hand. On top of the booths set up by the different halls that were showcasing lantern riddles, face painting and other small games, which gave insight into the mid-autumn festival and Chinese culture, I also had the chance to introduce to them a deeper and less explored part of the mid-autumn festival (the symbolism behind the festival). One interesting part to note, HSBC Prosperity Hall (Hall2)’s booth featured pig-shaped cookies (豬仔餅/豬籠餅), a traditional delicacy that used to be consumed during the mid-autumn festival but has lost popularity over the years.

Sometimes, when getting to know a different culture, it’s tempting to just get to know the most obvious parts. To truly understand the culture without delving deeper into its underlying parts, is neither realistic nor possible. But for the purpose of getting a taste of the culture, it might be one’s only option.

So next time a festive season rolls by, don’t just find out about the superficial facts, but try to understand more deeply the roots of the culture.