autumn moon festival

Richmond Autumn Moon Festival Celebrates ‘Chinese Thanksgiving’

By Thomas K. Pendergast

As Richmond residents enjoyed the final days of summer, a large crowd  of them gathered on Clement Street under clear blue skies to celebrate the change to another season with the district’s sixth-annual Richmond District Autumn Moon Festival on Sept. 17.

Click to watch video of the 2022 Richmond Autumn Moon Festival. Video by Thomas K. Pendergast.

“Autumn Moon is also a harvest moon, where people come, gather together, especially family and friends, and they share moon cake together,” District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan said. “When I was growing up, my mom always celebrated Autumn Moon because it’s a time that people, and family and friends come together, share a meal together, celebrate together. So, for me, personally, Autumn Moon is a time that you come together with your community. 

“You celebrate your harvesting, all your hard work that you’ve been doing all year, and you share the fruit of your labor together.”

Rich Menedez and Jen Nossokoff with Ever Menendez and camera-shy Rocky Balboa. Photo by Michael Durand.

In China, the Autumn Moon Festival goes back 3,000 years to the ancient emperors, some of whom worshiped the moon and used this heavenly body to determine when it was time to harvest the crops. Two of the celebration’s defining features are mooncakes and paper lanterns. 

Beautiful weather and lots of fun activities attracted a huge crowd to the 2022 Richmond Autumn Moon Festival. Photo by Thomas K. Pendergast.

“At Autumn Moon, we do eat mooncake but we also have these paper lanterns that we light up at night and you light up the lanterns with candles,” Chan said. “And you look at and check out the moon. And it’s usually a really big moon; the harvest moon is beautiful.” 

The lanterns created fond memories of the celebration from her childhood.  

“All the kids would make their own lanterns every year,” she said. “So that is my personal memory, to remember how creative you can be making your own lanterns and making sure that it does light up and it does not get on fire,” she said with a laugh. “So, you’ve got to figure out how to fit the candle there safely, not burn yourself and not light your lantern in flames.”

And of course, there is the special holiday meal named “mooncake” after the festival.

“You’re supposed to share that circle of the mooncake together, so it’s really about sharing and it’s harvesting your hard work, your labor but you have to share it together,” Chan said. “So that is the meaning of Autumn Moon.”

Tables, tents and booths lined Clement Street on both sides between Seventh and 10th avenues, offering food, information about community groups, organizations and services, arts and crafts for kids and games. 

Members of the Chinese Folk Dance Association perform “Racing Horses” at the Autumn Moon Festival on Clement Street. Photo by Thomas K. Pendergast.

Among the dignitaries who attended was California State Assemblymember Phil Ting, representing Assembly District 19, which includes the west side of San Francisco.

“This is such an important festival for Chinese Americans, for the Chinese community in particular; It’s a time where we are very thankful for our families, very thankful for the harvest, and we’re just very thankful for the time that we get to spend together,” Ting said. “And I’m thankful that this is an opportunity for all of us to be out here today. 

“I know for the last number of years in particular, Asian-Americans have felt under attack. They have felt that the City, the state, this country really hasn’t been safe for everyone. This is a great opportunity for us to be out, for us to stand together, to be together and to celebrate the Richmond District, but also to celebrate San Francisco,” he said. “So, thank you so much for being out here today.” 

Members of the Chinese Folk Dance Association perform “Splashing Water” at the 2022 Richmond Autumn Moon Festival. Photo by Thomas K. Pendergast.

San Francisco’s Mayor London Breed also showed up to join in the celebration.

“What’s so wonderful about this festival is how it brings community together,” Breed said. “I know especially our Chinese community has had challenges in our city and we’ve made significant investments in programs to help support the community. A lot of the organizations that I talked about here today have played an important part in helping to support, uplift and keep the community safe. It’s a lot of work.

Rozie Wong Gillies (left), Meghan O’Reilly with Rhys (3) and Soisin Rafferty (1). Photo by Michael Durand.

“At the end of the day, we have to take time out in life to have a good time, to have fun, to celebrate. There’s food, there’s activities, there’s performances. Yes, we’ll be finished with the boring speeches in just a moment,” Breed joked. “But, in the meantime, let’s just remember today is a day of celebration. Get to know your neighbors. Get to know people in your community that you don’t know.”

On Clement Street at Seventh Avenue, a stage was set up to feature many performances showcasing Chinese culture, including traditional folk dances, martial arts performances, calligraphy by Mr. Terry Luk and, of course, the ever-present lion dancers. 

Members of the Chinese Folk Dance Association perform “Song From Gulu” at the Autumn Moon Festival. Photo by Thomas K. Pendergast. 

Cultural groups participating included Lion Dance Me, Tat Wong Kung Fu’s Lion Dance Team, Chinese Folk Dance Association, San Francisco Community Dance Group and Fang Yi Zither Art Center.

Speaking on behalf of San Francisco County Sheriff Paul Miyamoto was his Chief of Staff Richard Jue. 

“The Autumn Moon Festival … we’ve been celebrating for years, thousands of years,” Jue said. “And to see the lanterns when kids come out so they can light it up and show the path of prosperity and it’s great. 

“And also, it’s bringing the family together. It’s like Thanksgiving, right? This is like our Thanksgiving,” he said.

David Chiu, SF city attorney and former member of the California State Assembly, was also there with words of encouragement. 

“The Autumn Moon Festival … is really a time for us to remember, rebirth, renew ourselves,” Chiu said. “And given what we’ve all gone through with the pandemic, with the recession and of course, with all the issues that we’ve had around our City, this is just such a wonderful celebration with hundreds of our residents coming out to say, ‘we’re back, we’re stronger than ever and we’re going to have a good time.’”      

Delnia Mohagrei (5 months) with her dad Pedrum. Photo by Michael Durand.

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