For the Wang family, fully celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival — meant to bring families together — in West Virginia is seemingly impossible when most of the family is a 12-hour flight away in China.
Yet each year, my parents manage to bring a piece of our home in China to the one we share in Appalachia. With their busy work schedules and my long school days, my parents and I had only a few family meals together over the past few years, aside from the American holidays that granted us the same breaks. However, to celebrate Mid-Autumn, the three of us would gather together and enjoy the rare experience of using our dining table. Through scattered conversations — a result of my parents conversing and me interrupting — we enjoy each other’s company. The somewhat hectic dynamic ironically brings comfort amidst chaos in our personal schedules.
Mooncakes purchased from an Asian market almost forty minutes away also make one of their rare appearances at this dinner, despite none of us really liking them (it truly is the thought that counts). The typical setting for our Mid-Autumn celebration includes my school textbooks and laptop pushed to the side of the table, and my parents eyeing my exposed school notes. The mooncakes are either on an entirely different surface, like a counter several feet away, or stowed away in our pantry. It could take a few weeks for someone to even notice they’re gone. While no lanterns make an appearance, my grandparents briefly join us on the phone as I make a feeble attempt to wish them a happy Mid-Autumn in Mandarin.
This year was my first year celebrating Mid-Autumn outside of West Virginia. On Mid-Autumn Day, I spent most of the day hunched over my laptop in some secluded area. The rainy weather and looming writing seminar deadline made me homesick for a place I never thought I would miss — homesick for West Virginia itself. Admittedly, I felt like I needed a change of scenery from Princeton. Despite the stunning campus and fall foliage, the New South building and rain dampened any admiration I had for campus that day. I called my parents — something I wish I’d do more often —and complained, despite the privileges that come with attending this university.
They reminded me of Mid-Autumn Day, which never had much significance to me throughout my adolescence. Our Mid-Autumn celebration would be delayed because of the additional distance put between us. However, Parents’ Weekend was upcoming, and I knew I would feel a sense of familiarity again. Later in the day, I did more school work with friends in the Forbes Library after needing a change of scenery from Firestone’s B floor. I eventually was in the presence of good company, and despite the lackluster start to the day, I was finally feeling like there was something to celebrate. We planned to head to Prospect to get mooncakes in an effort to celebrate Mid-Autumn and escape the schoolwork that was starting to consume our lives.
As we walked across campus, the weather continued its gloomy trend, but my spirits began to rise. We talked about things that led my mind away from academics and relieved an immense burden off my shoulders. Upon arriving, we were ultimately turned away because the event was RSVP only. Despite the apparent failed attempt to celebrate Mid-Autumn, I finally recognized the sense of familiarity I was desperately longing for earlier in the day.
My Mid-Autumn celebrations have never been up to par with tradition, and most of my family members considered it to be an unfortunate reality that comes with living in West Virginia. However, participating in nontraditional celebrations is not something I have ever regretted; I’m even starting to find it charming. I’ve been able to find the traditions wherever I go, like searching for opportunities to “enjoy” mooncakes. From West Virginia to New Jersey, the eight-hour drive away from the one place I have always lived seemed not so distant thanks to Mid-Autumn. Once again, I was reminded that more than one place could qualify as home.
Annie Wang is a contributing writer for The Prospect from West Virginia. She can be reached at email@example.com.