One evening last September, my eight-year-old son and I stumbled into the rustic backyard of kindhearted, near-strangers to attend our first Mid-Autumn Festival celebration in Ann Arbor. The deck, which opened onto a green, wooded area near the Huron River, was an oasis of Midwest charm. A projector screen was set up against the house before a blanket and a dozen colorful outdoor chairs, with the Netflix animated film Over the Moon queued up in Mandarin to play for the kids.

Sonia Leung (and children) celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival last year. Like the traditional
moon cakes and other round foods, the lanterns symbolize unity. | Photo: Michelle Yang

At that point, my family had barely settled into our new home in Ann Arbor after a cross-country move from the Pacific Northwest. We left what’s known as “the Seattle freeze” behind in search of Midwestern warmth and friendliness, hoping we’d be welcomed into our new community. Luckily, a local Facebook group of moms became the answer we were seeking. Sonia Leung, one of the moms from the group and a physician for veterans, immediately opened her home to our family, inviting us over to celebrate this second-most-important Chinese holiday (after the Lunar New Year).

The Mid-Autumn Festival, also sometimes called the Moon Festival, takes place on the fifteenth day of the eighth month on the lunar calendar, a day when the moon is full and bright, symbolizing unity, completion, and harmony. A holiday marked by family reunions, it is celebrated with round foods and lanterns that also symbolize unity.

We came bearing mochi rice cakes, our favorite Korean sesame crackers, and a metal bowl of clementines—all round. My last-minute stops at local Asian grocery stores for moon cakes had proven fruitless—they had all sold out. But our hosts, with contributions from their other guests, had plenty of moon cakes, as well as round blueberries and other snacks on the table, including an unexpected round main course—Domino’s pizzas.

When the movie ended, Sonia’s husband Todd started a bonfire to keep us all toasty in the early autumn chill. Our new friends brought out a large package of colorful Chinese lanterns and lit them for the kids to play with—a first for me as well as my son. The children excitedly ran about, creating swirls of color around us. We parents watched laughing but vigilant about the tea candles in little hands.   

We shared moon cakes filled with sweet lotus seed or red bean paste, some with a savory golden egg yolk hidden inside—and I was surprised to learn of my child’s passion for moon cakes. I watched with wide eyes as he inhaled more than his share.

2020’s Mid-Autumn Festival in Seattle had been during the lockdown, a quiet affair with just me, my husband, son, and little dog in our front yard drinking tea, nibbling on Chinese pastries, and gazing up at the moon. At that time, none of us could have imagined we’d become Ann Arborites and celebrate with new friends in just a year’s time.

Twelve more moons have come and gone here. Slowly, we’ve built up our new lives in our new hometown. I’ve taken a leadership role in the moms’ group and take special joy in welcoming folks newer than me to town. 

This year, I learned to stock up early on moon cakes from Hua Xing Asia Market and even impulse-purchased an extra box from Costco—we are set! And we’ll be hosting our new friends for the Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on September 10 this year. Of course, we’ll order pizzas again, too, as round as the full moon.