The Mid-Autumn Festival, or Moon Festival, hosted in San Francisco’s Chinatown is a vibrant, bustling cultural and communal celebration that boasts live music, singing, dancing, martial arts performances, delicious food and more. Thousands of visitors navigate the busy streets of Chinatown, which are lined with a host of booths that sell art, crafts, plants, food and clothing. Admission to the fair is free, so if you’re interested in visiting next fall, here are a few things we learned from attending the event.
According to Chinese cosmology, the moon is considered feminine, representing yin, and the sun is considered masculine, representing yang. There is a moon goddess, known as Chang’e, around whom many legends and stories are centered. Because the festival depends on the lunisolar calendar, the Moon Festival traditionally falls on the 15th day of the eighth month — for reference, the celebration in San Francisco for 2019 was held on the weekend of Sept. 7-8.
Traditionally, on the night of the full moon, women in China partake in the rituals of the festival by making offerings of candles, food, flowers and more. During this time, families enjoy mooncakes and light beautiful lanterns to celebrate.
What to do
The celebration in San Francisco is very versatile in that you have total control over what you want to get out of your visit. Whether you have only a few hours or want to dedicate the whole day to exploring, there is definitely a lot that you can do.
I took public transportation to reach the festival, and the experience was decent, overall. I took BART to the Montgomery station and then a Muni bus to Chinatown. Beware that since some of the streets are blocked off for the festival, the bus might not stop where Google Maps tells you it will. Try asking a bus driver for advice, as they know the area very well.
When you get to Chinatown, stroll through the streets and discover what over 200 stands have to offer. We found that there were several plant and bonsai street vendors with a wide selection of plants for fairly reasonable prices. The bonsai ranged from $10-$20, while smaller succulents were approximately $2-$3. The agenda is also posted in advance on the festival’s website, so you can select which performances you want to see and plan your day around different events.
During the festival, restaurants have people stationed out front, handing out coupons for food. Take advantage of these opportunities to try out the local flavors of Chinatown.
Also, make sure to try the traditional mooncakes that have become a beloved symbol of the festival. We loved Eastern Bakery on Grant Avenue — I highly recommend the black bean-filled mooncakes with yolk. There are mini mooncakes that you can purchase in bulk to give to friends and family (approximately $3) and large mooncakes (approximately $6.50) that can be shared by 2-3 people.
We hope that you have learned a little more about the Moon Festival and plan to see this beautiful celebration for yourself next year. As always, please remember to be respectful toward people who are celebrating such an ancient and symbolic cultural festival. Feel free to send us your pictures and make sure to have fun!
Contact Pariswi Tewari at [email protected].