"qiān lǐ gòng chán juān 。
千 里 共 婵 娟 。
A thousand miles apart, together sharing the beauty of the moon"
– From the poem Shui Diao Ge Tou (“Prelude to Water Melody”) by Shu Shi
According to seventh- and eighth-grade Mandarin teacher Weixia Han, “Language is not just about learning a language, the words; it is learning the culture, the real world of the country. As world language teachers at Nueva, we like to offer special opportunities—authentic beautiful things—to our classes to help our students learn the story of the country and language they are studying.”
This month, students in Weixia’s class celebrated 中秋节 or zhōng qiū jié (the Mid-Autumn Festival), a traditional event celebrated by many East and Southeast Asian people. With their parents, students watched the full moon, recited an ancient poem, and gave their parents a handmade card of appreciation. These activities were part of their process of immersing themselves in Chinese culture, an important part of learning the language, and they also offered an opportunity for students to share their learning with their families.
“The Mid-Autumn Festival is a traditional Chinese holiday in honor of the Goddess Chang’e,” said seventh-grader Madison M. “In modern times, people celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival by gathering with family and looking at the moon. They also eat moon cakes (月饼), fruit (水果), and watch live performances on the TV. My favorite part of the celebration was baking and eating the moon cake that I made. Every celebration is an excuse to eat cake!”
This Mid-Autumn Festival project proved to be demanding and enjoyable for students, as Weixia offered students a number of ways to engage in activities, including some optional ones. Required activities were to design a handcraft holiday appreciation card that included a Chinese-style drawing or painting with beautiful calligraphy of the poem “Shui Diao Ge Tou” and a letter of appreciation and wishes to their families. In addition to watching the full moon and designing a card of appreciation for their parents, students also read the poem “Shui Diao Ge Tou” and had the option to either cook a Chinese dish, make traditional mooncakes, or help with a household chore.
“I found that the Mid-Autumn Festival Project was very fun, with lots of different activities and things we could do within it,” seventh-grader Emi Yang shared. “For example, we wrote letters, drew flowers and ate yummy snacks! As well as having fun, I also learned a lot about the Mid-Autumn Festival.”
Seventh-grader Juliet C. chose to make mooncakes with her family. “During the festival, we ate mooncakes (月饼yuè bìng) We also watched the bright full moon and the Mid-Autumn Festival show. It was really fun to learn about Chinese culture!”
Some students chose to make a holiday gift, sing a Mandarin song, watch a Chinese movie,or teach family members the language.
“For the festival, I watched a really good Chinese movie called Ip Man, which is about a great kung-fu master taking on other masters,” seventh-grader Ethan H. said. “I also presented my parents with an appreciation card with background music of a Chinese string instrument called gu qin (古琴). It was a great holiday project that let me spend time with my family.”
Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations did not solely take place outside of class.
“In class, we celebrated by listening to traditional Chinese instruments, and watching a show with singers, acrobats, and more!” Madison M. added.
Students found the poem “Shui Diao Ge Tou” very meaningful, something Weixia was hoping her students would understand.
“This Asian poem might be more than a thousand years old,” she said, “but it discusses a universal theme, with the final image of no matter how far we travel from each other, that we share the same moon. The students and I discussed that it also represents the humanity we share, whatever nation we are from or language we speak. I think it was an especially important theme to explore at this challenging time.”
She also stressed the importance of the bond between school, students and family to enhance the students’ learning.
“At the moment, we cannot invite the families to share the mid-autumn holiday at school, so I wanted the students to bring it to their home and create something beautiful for their parents,” Weixia said. “I have been so touched by watching students teaching their own parents how to speak and write my language.