Recently, Pinyin Minion and I (the Verbivore) were talking about our Mid-Autumn Festival after our "what's your favorite ritual" survey question. She and I have cultures with similar folklore (Taiwanese and Vietnamese), so we got to swap stories over lunch and and laugh for days about the details, because the story behind the holiday involves a woman who gets stranded on the Moon with a lazy man and a rabbit. Pinyin Minion had this to share about this holiday that takes place on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Lunar calendar (Septemberish):
My favorite was Mid-Autumn Festival --“中秋節”!
The mythology itself was fascinating to me: There was a beautiful woman by the name of 嫦娥. Due to a number of reasons, she ended up ingesting a forbidden potion when her husband was out shooting arrows. To her surprise, 嫦娥 started floating and eventually flew all the way out of the window and onto the Moon. Luckily, that is where she meets Jade Rabbit (玉兔) whose job is to crush medicinal herbs, and 吳剛--not only was be banished to live on the Moon, he was also given the eternal chore of chopping down a laurel tree that grew back every time he became lazy. Naturally, there’s a lot of drama and backstory to this whole ordeal.
(I still remember when someone boldly asked the teacher to verify if Neil Armstrong and 嫦娥 had the opportunity to meet)
The tradition is for families and neighbors to have a BBQ and admire the Moon on this outdoor dining night. This is the one night out of the whole year, where the moon is at its fullest and brightest. Traditional foods include moon cakes and “yuzu” (Japanese citron). There were a few times my sister and I thought we actually saw the Rabbit. These nights were harmonious, magical, full of storytelling, and totally memorable...
The Rabbit and the Moon landing
I kid you not, astronaut Buzz Aldrin (listed as LMP – lunar module pilot) received a quick update from Houston (mission control center) about Jade Rabbit shortly before the touchdown on the Sea of Tranquility – the side of the Moon that faces Earth. This occurs at the time code 03-23-17-28, in tape #61/3, i.e. page 270 in the transcripts released by NASA in the "Apollo 11 Technical Air-to-Ground voice transcription" (July 1969) You can download that transcript here at NASA's history portal.
Houston mentions the rabbit in a set of weird news briefs called the Black Bugle, which includes updates on Miss Universe (with measurements of the winner), the latest in baseball, and a segment about Woodstream Corporation having supposedly built a better mousetrap. There doesn't seem to be other mention of the Black Bugle elsewhere in the transcript, but throughout the Apollo 11 mission, the team received a lot of "lighter news" briefs...lots of updates on American baseball, a report from a Houston astrologer about the astronauts' personalities (03-00-34-02) and a brief about submarine exploration in the Loch (00-23-14-23).
Here's that segment about the Moon Lady and the rabbit:
CAP COMM: Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning, there's one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-o has been living there for 4000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot because he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported.
ALDRIN: Okay. We'll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.