Montessori Arts: Celebrating the Asian Season of the Harvest Moon with Children & Families!

This is the time of year when our Holiday Season becomes important, and the Chinese Moon Festival & the Japanese Floating Lantern Ceremony are both wonderful seasonal cultural explorations for young children in the Montessori environment.

Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

San Francisco's Chinatown is a-buzz with the second most important celebration of the year: the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival! Moon cakes are everywhere and very important to the celebrations during this season. 

There are many versions of the story  but my favorite legend goes like this. 
A young girl named Chang-o was sent down from the heavens by the Jade Emperor to do valuable service in the land of the mortals. This is where she met Houyi, the young archer, and they became good friends. A very strange thing happened one day. Suddenly ten suns appeared in the sky and after a few days the land was parched and the people were dying of thirst. Houyi had the idea to shoot the suns out of the sky using his bow and arrow to save the earth. And he did! He reserved one sun for the earth and then everything was restored to a state of well-being. Houyi was revered by all, and eventually he and Chang-o were married. Houyi was offered an elixir to become immortal, but he didn't want to leave his beloved Chang-o. However, Chang-o drank the elixir so that she could return to her home in the heavens. And she did! Houyi was so sad to lose Chang-o, that he prepared her favorite sweet cakes and offered them at the full moon in remembrance of his beloved wife. Houyi eventually ascended and took his place in the sun and so there is the yin and yang of our solar system. 

Over the centuries, the Chinese people have grown to revere Chang-o as the moon goddess and "moon cakes" are prepared in her honor during the brightest full moon of the year, the harvest moon of late September. In some traditions, Chinese women prepare 13 moon cakes to symbolize the cycle of the year and to honor growth & good health in all areas of life for the upcoming year. 

The first time I attended this beautiful festival, I was enamored by all the music and dancing that was happening all along Grant Street in downtown San Francisco. I was particularly taken by a group of young people who were playing traditional style Chinese music with an array of both ancient and modern instruments. That was fifteen years ago and this group is still playing in the Bay Area with many innovative techniques, yet the traditional Chinese sound. Here's a youtube video of their wonderful performance at the S.F. Lotus Festival a few years ago. You can learn more about their music at their website: Melody of China.

I have told the story of Chang-o and the Mooncake Festival to older Preschoolers and they are fascinated! We have often acted the story out with silky scarves, little Chinese drums, triangles, cymbals, and even chopsticks tapped together like rhythm sticks! 

The children love to have a little Moon Festival of their own with moon cakes, warm tea, and lots of dancing to Chinese music from the cd, Melody of China. Usually, moon cakes are available during this time of year at Asian markets, but if you can't find them, you can use round rice cakes instead. 

Often, the Chinese Moon Festival is celebrated at night when the full moon comes out, and families traditionally walk in the night with lanterns to gather together for the festivities.

My Montessori Preschool group has often enjoyed making colorful paper "lanterns"  to hang around the room for our classroom Moon Festival. We have also created "moons" out of crescent-shaped and also big round-shaped paper to hang around the room. It's great fun to decorate these with silver glitter or aluminum foil!

I like the following book for the story of Chang-o. There are beautiful illustrations and the story is authentic. It's not exactly a preschool picture book, but quite informational for the teacher and fun for children to look through in the classroom book corner.

   Legend of the Moon Maiden
This book is available from Amazon at this link:Legend of the Moon Maiden at Amazon Books 

The following book is a lovely and very appropriate picture book from Grace Lin that I love sharing with the children during this time of the year.

Thanking the Moon
This book is available from Amazon at this link: Thanking the Moon at Amazon Books

Another exquisite celebration that is lovely to participate in is the Japanese Floating Lantern Ceremony. This happens at the end of the "Obon" season in Japan, during late summer and early Autumn. My grandchildren are Japanese-American and we have been fortunate to attend the fantastic Floating Lantern Ceremony on the North Shore of O'Ahu in the Hawaiian Islands. Our favorite Buddhist temple on the North Shore is located near one of the most beautiful Floating Lantern Ceremonies that happens in Hawaii during the late summer.

Photos by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

The participants in this festival order (beforehand) beautiful lanterns made of rice paper that are imprinted with their deceased loved ones' names. When the moon comes up, everyone lights the small candle inside their lantern and carries it down to the sea to launch it! This symbolizes the cycle of life and releases the spirits of the loved ones in peace and love.

We started the evening, by arriving at the beach location in the late afternoon so we could enjoy the last light of the day frolicking in the waves.   

Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

As the evening arrives, people begin gathering for the singing, dancing and feasting that happens at the nearby temple. 

Bon Dance in Hawaii during Obon season. Photo from Hawaii

Everyone is warmly invited to dance the "Bon Dance" and all ages are seen dancing around in the circle to the lively Japanese music being played. When the full moon begins to rise, all gather their lanterns for the short walk to the shore to send them out to sea.

Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

This traditional Japanese floating lantern ceremony was recently repurposed as the Shinnyo Lantern Floating Ceremony for World Peace to celebrate the International Day of Peace and the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. The lanterns were floated in the pool at Lincoln Center in New York City. 
Here's the link for more information and a video about this important event that took place on September 20th, 2015 Be A Light For

Floating Lanterns at the Paul Milstein Reflecting Pool at Hearst Plaza, Lincoln Center
Photo by Christina von Messing for Shinnyo-en

Children in a Montessori classroom often have a "peace table"  and this little floating lantern ceremony to honor world peace could be incorporated into the activities in the classroom that center around the peace curriculum. In the past, I have created little "memory papers" for children as a sort of individualized floating lantern activity. You can get rice paper at the art store and I have cut sheets in half so that each child has a small piece of rice paper. (Parchment paper is a good substitute as well) Then, each child draws or writes something about a loved one who has passed away. These loved ones are often grandparents or even beloved pets that the children have lost in their lives. 

Next, you can set up a bowl of water in which the child can float his/her "memory paper" and sing a little song or simply whisper the loved one's name as the rice paper floats. You can set up a small decorative metal container nearby for holding the damp "memory papers" after the child is done. There are lots of these containers in Autumn colors at Michaels and the Dollar Store at this time of year.  Later, the memory papers can be taken to the compost for completing the cycle. 

This little children's ceremony can be re-purposed to go along with the recent Floating Ceremony for World Peace by inviting the children to write or draw something about world peace. Some children have told me that world peace is being kind to the homeless people on the street. Others have talked about not wasting water so that everyone can have enough. It's amazing what these little ones come up with for activities that involve their ideas about world peace. One child told me that he wanted to grow flowers for world peace... just lovely little hearts these children have!

You could also substitute fresh flower petals to float in the water and the child can sing a song or talk about world peace while the flower petals float.

Floating Lantern Ceremony during the full moon on the 
North Shore in Hawaii (2011) 
Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

I honored to have this post listed as part of the Montessori Monday Link-up at Living Montessori Now. You can find lost more Montessori articles from bloggers all over the world posting there! Here's that link: Living Montessori Now Montessori Mondays Link Up.

Thank you very much for visiting my Blog and reading this article. I hope you have found as much joy in the cycle of the seasons as I have in sharing these ideas with you. I love your comments, so please feel free to leave one in the section below!

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