Monday, October 05, 2009

Festival of the Autumn Moon

Chuseok is a celebration of the full moon in Korea and other Asian countries (in China it is Zhongqiujie (traditional Chinese: 中秋節) calculated by the lunar calendar and is sometimes called the mid-autumn festival. It is a time for giving thanks and being with family, not unlike the Thanksgiving that is celebrated in the U.S.

On October 3, it was such a pleasure to return to Donghwa, a Korean Cultural Center in New Jersey, to celebrate this wonderful holiday, where I was introduced to the idea in the first place. The occasion was intimate and meaningful as the participants sat on the floor making rice cakes (songpyeon (송편), a crescent-shaped rice cake which is steamed upon pine needles. In this case, the pine needles were harvested by Young Cho earlier that day as he was hiking somewhere in New York, and the pine-scented aroma was especially fragrant. The moon festival celebrants created many moon-shaped rice cakes which were gathered up and steamed. The celebration concluded with a tea ceremony hosted by Mr. Cho while the center's director, Dr. Youngmi Ha explained the tea ceremony and its significance. The ceremony consisted of three pourings of the green tea. The ritual of pourings is always with odd numbers (not two or four), and the richness of the tea continues past the original pouring. The celebration is in the energy and spirit of the tea which in its most vital state, is the essence of Zen. The celebration which began in the late afternoon concluded as the sun was setting and the full moon was in ascendancy.

I drove with friends through the hills of New Jersey, leaving Englewood and weaving through the night terrain to Broad Avenue which took us to Palisades Park and the site of many Korean businesses and restaurants. One of our companions had recently moved to this charming little town. We parked and as we left the automobile we looked up into the night sky and saw the full moon that was the object of our festival celebration. A thin trail of clouds momentarily masked the moon. The picture here is of the Palisades Park moon in its full mystery and glory. We celebrated the moon and searched along Broad Avenue for a place to continue our feast of this beautiful full moon and the beginning of Autumn in the East.

We found Park Jang Kum, a restaurant for feasting and drinking right in the heart of Palisades Park. The menu seemed fashioned for celebrating Autumn, and we ordered more food than is legal for such a small group. Consequently the evening stretched into night with taste delight after taste delight. I was fortunate to be in the presence of such enchanting appreciators of the autumnal moon. As we were leaving, we wondered about the name of the restaurant and to our surprise Park Jang Kum came out and introduced herself... certainly we bonded that autumn evening of the full moon as a family away from families.

No comments: