What an eventful week in Rome! I’ve been very busy getting used to my classes and new routines in Rome. Time flies when you’re abroad!
September 13 was a special day for me: it was Midautumn Festival. Called “中秋节” (zhōng qiū jié, “zhawng chee-you jyeh”) in Mandarin Chinese, it is a holiday I celebrate on the eighth full moon on the lunar calendar. The exact date of the Midautumn Festival varies every year, but it always happens between September and October. This year, it happened at the end of my first week of classes.
My family and I are Chinese immigrants who moved to Boston in 1999. We brought several traditions with us. Many of them involve all of us spending time together at home. I’ve almost always returned to my family home in Boston to celebrate Chinese holidays, but this year, I am outside of the United States. This is my first Midautumn Festival away from not only my family, but away from my homeland.
I called my family for the first time since I said goodbye to them at the airports back in Boston. I’m starting to miss them and am feeling a bit homesick. I miss my mother’s Chinese cooking the most. I also didn’t know how I’d feel about celebrating Midautumn Festival away from home.
On Wednesday, I decided to explore more of the city after my classes. I heard that the area around Termini station, where both lines of the Roma Metro (yes, there are only two routes on the subway, Linea A and Linea B – every time the government tries to dig a new subway path, they find ancient artifacts and have to stop to preserve the archaeological context!) intersect and people can catch buses and trains to other parts of Italy, is culturally diverse and houses a lot of international markets.
I was told that the area around the Vittorio Emanuele stop, directly after Termini, had a few Asian markets. I found a small but well-stocked place in the area and was thrilled to see my favorite Chinese products on the shelves! I spoke to the cashier in Chinese (I was juggling English, Italian, and Chinese in my head this week!) and found a key component of celebrating Midautumn Festival: mooncake (饼, yuè bǐng, pronounced “yoo-eh bingh”).
Mooncakes are made with different types of filling, usually red bean or lotus seed paste (I’m bigger fan of lotus seeds), and sometimes contain an egg yolk to represent the full moon. The reason my family and I celebrate the moon on this holiday is to respect the Moon Goddess, who, according to our folklore, was once a mortal woman who floated away to the moon. I heard that Americans see a “man in the moon” when they look at the sky. I think the craters in the moon look more like a rabbit. In the myth, the Moon Goddess has a pet rabbit to keep her company in the sky.
I messaged one of my housemates, who is also a Chinese-American studying in Rome, about the supermarket and bought some Asian spices and sauces for her. We’re both excited to be making our own Chinese food in the apartment soon! We also agreed to celebrate by going to a Chinese restaurant for dinner that night. Another one of our housemates came along as well. We had a great time together!
My housemates and I went to a local Chinese restaurant for dinner. How I miss my family’s homemade Chinese food! We walked around the city and enjoyed looking at the moon. I brought my camera and took some pictures of the full moon at different sites in Rome. It always makes me happy to look at the moon – my parents told me that whenever I miss them, I can look at the moon because that is where they are looking, too. This is especially true on Midautumn Festival: my family is celebrating in the States, enjoying their mooncakes as well.
We returned to the apartment later that night. I feel much better after celebrating an important cultural holiday in Rome. I’m glad I can celebrate my heritage, even when I’m so far away from my family in America. I can’t help but wonder how other immigrants feel when they celebrate traditions that are not commonly acknowledged in the places they live in.
I was too young to remember my family’s first Midautumn Festival when we moved to the United States. My mother, father, sister and I are the only ones from our family to leave China. The four of us are the only ones in America. I now know what it’s like to be away from close family that I’m used to seeing often and celebrating holidays like Midautumn Festival with every fall. I’m very thankful for my housemates for celebrating with me while I am away from my family – I feel inspired to help other students feel more at home by celebrating cultural holidays with them, as well.