Moon Festival for Autumn

Illustration by Grace Lin
from her book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

The “Moon Festival,” also known as the “Mid-Autumn Festival,” or “Mooncake Festival,” is the second most important festival in China after the Chinese New Year. Celebrations include worshiping the moon, lighting paper lanterns, and eating mooncakes. The Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th of the 8th lunar month in the Chinese calendar around the autumn equinox, but the date varies in different parts of the world and on different calendars. Chinese people will enjoy a 3-day break from September 10 to 12. Here it will be celebrated by most people on September 10, which is also the September Full Moon. Our Harvest Moon is a similar marking of this time of the seasons.

I will attend one of tea expert Selina Law‘s festival celebrations locally. She shares customs and stories about the holiday and provides samples of different types of tea and mooncake.

The Mid-Autumn Festival originated from the Chinese attention to and worship of celestial phenomena. It evolved from the worship of the Moon in autumn in ancient times when ancient Chinese emperors offered sacrifices to the Moon in autumn to pray for a good harvest in the coming year.

This is a traditional festival celebrated in Chinese culture and similar holidays are celebrated in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and other countries in East and Southeast Asia.

There are numerous varieties of mooncakes consumed within China and beyond. The type I knew when I was younger is the Cantonese mooncake which my Chinese friend would give me. is the most famous variety. Typically, a Cantonese mooncake is a round pastry with a rich thick filling usually made from red bean paste or lotus seed paste. It has a thin, salty, egg crust. It is cut into small wedges, accompanied by tea.

Some of the other festival traditions are certainly things anyone can participate in this weekend. Traditions include: reuniting with the family over a meal, paying closer attention to the Moon, making and lighting colorful lanterns, giving small gifts, and sometimes drinking a special liquor, such as cassia or Osmanthus wine. I have yet to try that drink though I looked again this week for it, unsuccessfully, in stores.

Thanking the Moon, written and illustrated by the award-winning and prolific author Grace Lin. It would be a good read-aloud book to let children know about the holiday and possibly about another culture. It is the story of a Chinese-American family celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. They have a picnic in the moonlight with mooncakes, pomelos (the largest citrus fruit and an ancestor of the grapefruit), cups of tea, and colorful lanterns. Everyone sends thanks and a secret wish up to the Moon. A moonlight picnic sounds like an excellent family (or couples) activity for this weekend.

Crescent Moon

Woodcut of Sun and Moon (Nuremberg Chronicle)

We are into the Waning Crescent phase of the Moon which occurs between the last quarter and new Moon phases. In the Northern Hemisphere, we see the Moon’s left side lit and the right side in darkness. The lit area slowly shrinks each day, covering less and less of the Moon’s surface until it looks like a very thin crescent on the left side.

About 30% is lit this weekend with what we call “moonlight.” But there is no moonlight – only sunlight reflected off the Moon’s surface.

The whole Moon will be in darkness at the new Moon phase and another lunar cycle will begin.

Waning Crescent Moons rise in the east between midnight and sunrise and are highest in the morning. It sets (yes, just like the Sun) rather invisibly between noon and sunset.

Even this phase of the Moon has its lore, though the Full and New Moons tend to get more attention. One of the many lunar superstitions is that the first time you see a crescent moon for the month, take all your spare coins out of your pocket, and put them in a different pocket in order to ensure good luck for the next month. Clearly, this belief came from a time when people carried coins in their pockets instead of credit cards and a phone.

Some other Crescent Moon connections:

  • A crescent shape is a symbol for this lunar phase and it is sometimes called the “sickle moon.
  • In Hinduism, Lord Shiva is often shown wearing a crescent moon on his head symbolizing that he is timeless and the master of time.
  • The crescent is also used as the astrological symbol for the Moon.
  • It is the alchemical symbol for silver.
  • It was the emblem in mythology of Diana (Artemis) and represented virginity.
  • In Christianity, it is associated with the Virgin Mary.
  • Because it was used as a roof finial in Ottoman-era mosques, it has also become associated with Islam.

Walking on the Moon

I remember watching Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong set foot on our Moon on July 20, 1969. I was in high school but it was summer vacation so all of my friends had been outside being teenagers. But everyone went home to watch the astronauts.

I went home before 3 pm EST because that was supposed to be when they would be landing. I looked it up today and Apollo 11’s Eagle lunar module landed at 20:17 GMT (3:17 my time) and then Neil Armstrong (who was closest to the door) was the first man to step on the Moon.

They landed in an area known as the Sea of Tranquility. When his feet touched the ground Armstrong spoke words that would become famous: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” He later said that he had actually said “That’s one small step for a man” but the audio cut out and the “a” was lost.

Buzz Aldrin called for a moment of silence shortly after the landing to give thanks for their survival. I read today but I don’t recall that he took communion with a wafer and a tiny chalice of wine.

Aldrin stands on the Moon
Aldrin on the Moon in a photo by Armstrong, who can be seen reflected in Aldrin’s visor. NASA Image and Video Library, Public Domain

Buzz Aldrin grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, not far from my hometown. In 2016, his hometown middle school in Montclair was renamed Buzz Aldrin Middle School. I was the poet-in-the-schools person there for a few years. Students knew a bit about him – astronaut, Moon landing – but almost nothing about the actual landing or the space program. When I told them about watching the landing, they looked at me as if I was time traveler. I must be as old as their grandfather.

A teacher there told me that when they did the dedication Aldrin came to the school for an assembly and was kind of cranky and a bit “inappropriate” in his remarks to the pre-teens. Hey, he had been on the Moon!

The video from the Moon landing was not very good quality by today’s standards but the idea that it was coming from so far away made it amazing. Most people today still have no real understanding of how that picture appears on their Tv screen whether it travels by antenna, cable, or from their phone.

I have to shake my head and wonder about people who still doubt that we ever landed on the Moon. There is something in humans that seems to be attracted to conspiracies and doubt. My favorite crazy theory is that director Stanley Kubrick did 2001: A Space Odyssey the year before. One source claims that Kubrick initially declined the offer, only relenting when NASA threatened to out his little brother as a member of the Communist Party. Knowing what I do about Kubrick, he would have had a hard time shooting bad video because he was so demanding as a director.

That theory (which came mostly from one person and one book he wrote called held that Kubrick spent 18 months on a soundstage shooting the footage for the Apollo 11 and 12 Moon missions. Hey, in his 1980 film The Shining, the boy does wear an Apollo 11 sweater at one point. The 1978 film, Capricorn One, is about a journalist who uncovers a government hoax about astronauts landing on Mars. That prepares us for how they will fake the Mars landing one day.

I still look in wonder at the Moon most nights and it still seems incredible that we can send a spacecraft to the Moon or Mars. And how about that a telescope is now orbiting around the Sun at a distance of nearly 1 million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth and sending back amazing photos of stars and planets? Using the JWST, we will be able to capture extremely distant galaxies as they were only 100 million years after the Big Bang – which happened around 13.8 billion years ago. We will be able to see light from 13.7 billion years ago. That must be fake too, right?

The “Phantom Galaxy” NGC 628 as seen by the James Webb Space Telescope NASA/ESA/CSA/STSCI/JUDY SCHMIDT

Crossposted from the One-Page Schoolhouse website

First Quarter Moon

In the Northern Hemisphere, the sunlit part of the moon moves from right to left.

Today is the first quarter Moon phase. It is a term that confused me as a child when I first started to pay attention to the night sky. The First Quarter Moon is also called, somewhat illogically, the Half Moon because the Sun’s rays illuminate exactly 50% of the Moon’s surface.

At the First Quarter in the Northern Hemisphere, the right half of the Moon is lit up, as shown below. In the Southern Hemishere, the left half is illuminated and near the Equator, the upper part is bright after moonrise, and the lower part is bright before moonset.

In the Southern Hemisphere, the sunlit part moves from the left to the right.

As Juliet told Romeo, “O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon, That monthly changes in her circled orb.”

via www.timeanddate.com

You know that ocean tides on Earth are mostly generated by the Moon’s gravitational pull. The largest tidal range is around Full Moon and New Moon when the Moon and the Sun’s gravitational forces combine to pull the ocean’s water in the same direction. These tides are known as spring tides or king tides. And with today’s First Quarter and again at the Third Quarter, the Moon and Sun pull in different directions, producing the smallest difference between high and low tide. These are known as neaps or neap tide.

You Won’t See the Micromoon Tonight

The Full Moon last week was called a “supermoon” because it was closer to Earth and so looked a bit larger. Tonight is the New Moon – the “invisible” Moon – and some people have given this one the name “Micromoon.” Both terms are not scientific or official and only came into being in recent times.

A Micromoon is when a Full Moon or a New Moon coincides with apogee, the point in the Moon’s orbit farthest away from Earth. I have also seen it called Minimoon or Apogee Moon. It is considered to be “micro” Full Moon or New Moon when the Moon’s center is farther than 405,000 kilometers (ca. 251,655 miles) from the center of Earth.

Will it really look different? A Full Micro Moon will look approximately 14% smaller than a Supermoon and the illuminated area appears 30% smaller, so it might look a little less bright. Of course, a Micro New Moon – like all New Moons – is not lit for us to see, so it being farther away will not have any effect on what we see – or more accurately, don’t see.

Even unseen, the New Moon still affects tides which shows the greatest difference between high and low tides around a Full Moon and a New Moon. Micromoons mean a smaller variation of about 5 cm (2 inches).

Moon lore suggests that Full Moons, New Moons, Micromoons, and Supermoons affect human mental health. It was also believed that they also could create natural disasters, such as earthquakes, because of the pull of the Moon and Sun in the way that it affects tides. No scientific evidence supports these kinds of correlations.

An Eclipsing Full Moon for May 16, 2022

Photo by George Desipris – Pexels

A lunar eclipse is set to occur on May 15 and 16 and it will be a Supermoon and it will likely have a bit of a reddish color (“Blood Moon”. Supermoons are Full Moon that seems to be bigger than usual. The red comes from particles in the Earth’s atmosphere changing the color of the reflected light.

According to NASA, the eastern half of the United States and all of South America will have the opportunity to see every stage of the lunar eclipse. Totality will be visible in much of Africa, western Europe, Central and South America, and most of North America. A second lunar eclipse will take place on November 8.

Some info on all that is at space.com

All that makes calling this month’s Full Moon the “Flower Moon” or any of its other names seem rather anti-climatic. Common names for the May Full Moon are the Flower Moon and Planting Moon. Some less common but more interesting names and stories from past years on this site include: the Buddha Full Moon, Corn Planting Moon, Hare Moon, Moon When Frogs Return, Blue Moon and Day for Night, Milk Moon, Grass Moon, and another eclipsing Moon in the Shadow.