I learned only recently about the Chinese Moon Festival (thanks to our campus multi-faith conversations, at which we gather to share about our respective traditions.) For those of you also in learning mode, the Chinese festival (according to Wikipedia) corresponds almost perfectly to Sukkoth:
The “Moon Festival” is one of the most important holidays in Chinese culture; its popularity is on par with that of Chinese New Year. The history of the Mid-Autumn Festival dates back over 3,000 years. The festival is held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunisolar calendar with a full moon at night, corresponding to mid-September to early October of the Gregorian calendar. On this day, the Chinese believe that the moon is at its brightest and fullest size, coinciding with harvest time in the middle of Autumn.
There you have it, pretty much Sukkoth in a nutshell, with the addition of our historical narrative: that the flimsy booths we construct are not only for facilitating the harvest, but to remind us of our 40 years of desert wandering, and of impermanence in general.
Tonight at sundown begins the final chapter of our holiday season; Tuesday night/Wednesday is the final flourish – Simchat Torah, which has nothing to do with the harvest or the moon; it got added to our calendar post-Biblically. On it we read the final chapter of the Torah, and scroll back to read the very beginning and start over. And so the New Year officially begins – “In the beginning the earth was chaos, darkness on the face of the deep …” Thus we have a marvelous opportunity – to imagine the earth itself starting fresh; to take on the chaos and darkness, roll up our sleeves, and join in fashioning something sustainable.
So Jews are not alone in marking this magnificent time of year – bright moon and harvest that if we are lucky we get to enjoy and feel nourished and sustained to take on a New Year.
Hag sameach! Happy Festival!