People from as far away as Los Angeles and China gathered Thursday at the Goddess of Mercy Temple to begin a traditional celebration that would lead to gazing at the moon.
The temple, the former church of St. Michael the Archangel, was bathed in color both from decorations and from costumes worn by members of the Buddhist World Peace and Health Organization who, like millions of others around the world, consider the Mid Autumn Festival a celebration of great importance.
A table was filled with moon cakes, apples, bananas, candy and chips for the celebration that would follow a two-hour production that included a re-enactment, singing, dancing and kung fu demonstrations.
The festival, which dates back centuries, is rooted in the tragic legend of Houyi the Archer, said Jennie Wong, the organization’s spokeswoman, who recounted the tale in English and then in Chinese.
Houyi noticed the rivers were running dry and the land suffered from drought — likely the consequence of having 10 suns in the sky.
He shot down nine of them with his bow and arrow, the legend says, and became admired as a hero for relieving people’s suffering.
Later, Houyi married Chang’e, a woman considered “beautiful and virtuous” whose company he wouldn’t enjoy for much longer. The legend says Houyi went to visit a holy mountain where he met with a goddess. He asked her for a sample of the “elixir of life” and she gave it to him.
But the goddess told Houyi if he took it, he’d immediately become immortal and ascend into the heavens.
Unwilling to leave his wife Chang’e, Houyi instead gave the elixir to her to hide, but an evil apprentice saw it. That evil apprentice, Feng Meng, found an opportunity to get Chang’e alone and demanded the elixir at knifepoint.
With few options, Chang’e took the elixir herself and began floating toward heaven, choosing to land on the moon so she could stay as close to earth as possible.
Unable to seek retribution since Feng Meng ran away, Houyi instead set up an altar and put all his wife’s favorite pastries and fruits on it, starting a tradition that spread.
After recounting the legend, dozens at the temple Thursday did their part; some sang, others danced.
Lucas Wang, known by his Buddhist followers as Ziguang Shang Shi, offered a blessing at the end of the ceremony and wished all in attendance happiness and joy.
The group shared moon cakes and prepared for a celebration that would include basking under the light of the moon Thursday night.