Halloween might be canceled this year. But what about celebrating a Mid-Autumn festival?

A moon in the skies over a home in Sonoma, CA. This year according to Selenographers, the moon appearing in the autumn sky will be a rare 'blue moon.' Photo by Jonathan Farrell

Now that Halloween has been essentially canceled because of COVID-19, there is something to celebrate other than Halloween this October. For towns like Sonoma, California that treasure such traditions, an alternative would be helpful.

For centuries in other parts of the world, (specifically Asia) people celebrate what is referred to as the “Mid-Autumn Festival.” Similar in some ways to our harvest festivals here in Sonoma, Mid-Autumn Festival is a time in which people gather to celebrate the season, remember loved ones who have since passed, and express gratitude for a bountiful harvest.

Photo by Jonathan Farrell

“The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated on the 15th of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, in the second month of autumn. It’s a big holiday!” said Sonoma realtor and interior designer Gigi Pfleger who was born and raised in China.

She compares it to the Thanksgiving in United States. “It’s when families gather to unite, like the full moon represents. We usually have big meals and festivities.” Yet as she pointed out, “it depends on the region. Different regions throughout China each have a different way of celebrating.”

Celebration of a Mid-Autumn festival has a history of over 3,000 years in the Far East. It was derived from the custom of moon worshiping during the Shang Dynasty of China, (circa. 1600–1046 BC). After that, it was first celebrated as a national festival during the Northern Song Dynasty (circa 960–1127) and has been that way ever since.

Other parts of Asia have something closely resembling it. In Japan it is referred to Tsukimi, in Korea it is called Chuseok and in Vietnam it is known as Tet Trung Thu. The Mid-Autumn festival throughout all of Asia follows a lunar calendar instead of a solar calendar as we do here in the West.

Just about all cultures throughout the world whether in the East or the West have some reverence or romantic notion about harvest time and about the moon. This year for example there will be a rare ‘blue moon’. Halloween tends to stir what is mysterious, eerie and hints at magic. But in Asian culture the moon is auspicious representing fertility and abundance.

“Moon cakes are must,” said Gigi. If you search on Google, the pictures that will pop up online will mostly show the Guangdong style moon cakes.” (These are the most common), she said. Moon cakes (similar in some ways to the likes of holiday fruitcakes here at Christmas) are a delicacy.

A traditional moon cake is made with whole egg yolks to symbolize the moon. The more egg whole egg yolks used, the more expensive the moon cake. And, the more blessings to the person who receives it.

Made with a whole egg yolk to represent a full moon, the more ingredients such as nuts and seeds, the higher the price. To have more than one egg yolk in a moon cake that too is prized. And with more egg yolks it is thought to bring more good fortune and blessing to the one who receives it.

In Suzhou, a place known for its canals, bridges and gardens is where Gigi Pfleger’s family and relatives are from, Suzhou is not far from Shanghai. “We have different types of moon cakes,” she said. Some are made with Lotus seed, pine nuts and others are made with red bean paste or custard, just to mention a few types. Gigi’s favorite is the fresh pan grilled warm moon cakes filled with grounded pork.

“As for dishes served at gatherings,” Gigi said, mainly they are traditional dishes, like those made with meat and seafood, and snack on sweet pumpkin soup or pumpkin buns, as well as every day dishes like those made with noodles or rice,” she added, “just like celebrating Chinese New Year.”

A celebration with lots of food doesn’t seem festive without some wine. Since Sonoma is wine country, Gigi said, “we drink Guihua jiu, which is Osmanthus flower wine. It is very sweet which is not everyone’s favorite. So most of us would drink beer or homemade rice wine instead.”

Believe it or not, many types of foods from various cuisines around world can be paired with wine, especially our Sonoma Valley varieties.

Wine pairing experts, like those at The Panel – wine club and lounge on West Napa Street  in Sonoma took a moment to say what their choice of wine could be. “With moon cakes because the base is heavy pastry, said owner Darlene Rhodes, I would grab a French Muscat or a fabulous bottle of champagne with a honey dosage that we do sell here. It is one by Lelarge Pugeot called Bises (‘the bees’) and I honestly think that would be the best pairing around for a moon cake,” she said.

The Panel has a wide selections of wines. Owner, Darlene Rhodes knows what wine to pair with many Asian dishes, including Peking Duck, a specialty for Mid-Autumn Festivals. Photo courtesy of The Panel – wine club and Lounge, Sonoma CA

As for that sought after Peking duck, Roasted duck symbolizes fidelity and is like what a turkey is to Westerners for Thanksgiving. Food is universal and has always been something to help bring people together and establish bonds.

To pair with duck, “I personally would recommend a Spätlese riesling or maybe a grenache to balance the heat and sweetness,” said Rhodes. Gigi suggested Gewurztraminer as perfect pairing for most Chinese dishes.

Since the fall is closely associated with pumpkin and a variety of squash, Rhodes had this to say about selecting a wine. “As far as pumpkin dishes, because they range from savory to sweet they always have that lovely winter squash flavor the choices are vast,” she said. “However, I would grab some thing like a Counoise or a carbonic carignan and a syrah as they will pair beautifully with pumpkin flavors from savory to sweet.”

‘Trick or Treat’ door to door venturing for this year is strongly discouraged. Gigi agrees it is not a good idea. Going to people’s houses is postponed until COVID-19 is over.

Gigi also pointed out that with regards to “gathering” it would be wise to keep this home celebrating small and practice social distancing. To explain what usually happens at Mid-Autumn Festival time, she added.

It would be wise to keep home celebrating small and practice social distancing, like have it out in the backyard. Photo courtesy of Gigi Plfeger web site.

“People go to family and friends’ houses to visit. The moon cakes, fruits and wine are common gifts to bring along with them.” Gigi said, “After dinner, we watch special celebration programs on TV and enjoy the bright full moon outside the window, and hope to see glance of Chang-E, a mythological figure dancing on the moon.”

In her realtor and interior design work, Gigi also utilizes the skills and techniques of Feng Shui. When asked what would she do to decorate or enhance the house for Mid-Autumn Festival, she said. “We would have some flower in the house, but we mainly decorate the house during the celebration of New Year to bring good luck to the upcoming year ahead and get rid of bad spirits.”

Yet, with all the turmoil the earlier part of 2020 has been, especially with the recent wildfires, many people here in the Valley might feel as if the past six months have been bad luck.

The Mid-Autumn Festival for this year falls on October 1st. 2020, the Chinese will be celebrating both the National Day and the Mid-Autumn Festival, and everyone is given a week of holiday vacation.

The Mid-Autum Festival “It’s a big holiday! similar to Thanksgiving here in the United States,” said Gigi Tan Pfleger. She is a realtor at Coldwell Banker in Sonoma, California. Photo courtesy of Gigi Pfleger.

While here in Sonoma having a week of vacation just for an autumn festival probably wouldn’t happen. Yet, making quality time to spend at home with family is always helpful and uplifting in stressful circumstances.

Weather permitting having a celebration outside in the backyard would be ideal, especially if the moon is visible this Oct. 1. To learn more about Mid-Autumn festival, reach out to Gigi Pfleger via her web site.