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Published Thursday 28 Sep 2023

This 3,000 year old Chinese festival brings families together. Find out how one of our team celebrates this festival. Read more.

While the weather is not playing ball in the southern hemisphere on Friday 29 September, we celebrate the Moon Festival here in spring. The festival is also known as the Mooncake Festival or Zhong Qiu Jie in Mandarin and in the northern hemisphere it’s a well-loved mid-Autumn festival.

This traditional Chinese festival dating back more than 3,000 years, is a vibrant and colourful festival which brings families together. In fact, the full moon is also a symbol of family reunion.

There are several stories connected with the Moon Festival and many are associated with the full moon. One of the popular stories is about the Jade Rabbit. This talks about the immortals who were so moved by a rabbit’s selfless sacrifice that they decided to send it to the moon where it became an immortal. Another popular tale talks about Hou Yi using his skills and strength to shoot down nine of the ten suns in Chinese mythology. His wife Chang’e is said to have consumed the elixir of life and became the moon goddess.

This week we asked Jeesean Mah, a Vaccination Specialist Pharmacist and District Cold Chain Lead at Te Whatu Ora  - Capital, Coast and Hutt Valley to share her journey of working in the healthcare system and how her family celebrates this festival here in New Zealand.

What do you enjoy most about working in health?

‘I started my journey as a pharmacist in low socio-economic and highly deprived areas in Auckland. Here, I had a first-hand experience of working for people who required a great deal of assistance and have poorer health outcomes. Being able to support and advocate for those who are most vulnerable sparked my interest in public health.

What the team was doing in the COVID vaccination space aligned with my interest and passion, and that is how I joined Te Whatu Ora - Capital, Coast and Hutt Valley. Gradually, I also got involved in the cold chain space where I oversaw quality and looked at minimising cold chain risks. Cold Chain is about how we store products that are temperature sensitive from production to use.’

What has been your experience of mixing your culture with New Zealand everyday life?

‘My family moved to New Zealand from Malaysia when I was in my fifth year in school. I had very little exposure to English which was a reason for me being very shy for the first five to six years.

My English improved in due course, and I was also able to make friends and mix with the culture. It was harder for my brother who is older than me. This experience is similar to many of my friends who migrated when they were young.’

Is there anything specific you do to help patients from ethnic communities feel comfortable in our care?

‘When I meet new migrants and those that are not fluent in English, I always think of my parents and their struggles with language barriers when accessing healthcare. For people with limited fluency in English, I spend a bit more time with empathy in my communication. I also give them written guidance so that they have something to refer to after they leave. This, I feel, has helped me engage better with patients so that they have a good experience with the healthcare system.

In my experience, I saw that many of our Chinese community have a high trust in the system and are comfortable receiving vaccinations but with these discussions, I have been able to help them better understand the benefits. For others too, I try and make them feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible. The experience is always best when people don’t feel rushed.’

How do you and your family celebrate the moon festival in New Zealand? Are the celebrations similar in Malaysia?

‘中秋节快乐 (zhong qiu jie kuai le); this translates to Happy Mid-Autumn Festival.

The Mid-Autumn or Moon festival is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. In Malaysia, my family who lived out of town would return home and would gather outside in the courtyard, and gaze at the full moon while eating mooncakes. All the children also get together and light lanterns to celebrate the festival. The streets are filled with vendors selling colourful lanterns and mooncakes.

This is a symbolic festival. Each of the festivals in the Chinese culture have specific traditions and symbols. Eating mooncakes is a significant part of this festival as mooncakes are round and round signifies reunion, unity and completeness. These sweet cakes are made of red bean and egg yolk. The sweetness signifies us having a sweet long lasting year. However, mooncakes can be savoury as well and this tradition will depend on where you come from.

Celebrations for my family in New Zealand are a bit different. This is a festival that is celebrated with family and all our extended family is back in Malaysia. This year is very exciting as we have our family visiting us from Malaysia so, we have bought mooncakes and decorated our home. I am looking forward to the celebrations.’

What is the one thing that you would like people to think about when someone mentions this festival?

‘Delicious mooncakes, a time for being grateful for what you have, and spending time with your loved ones. A big part of the festival is gifting and receiving mooncakes. For me, it brings a smile to my face when I am gifted a mooncake due to the significance. There is a sense of gratitude when we receive it as you know the person thought of you and took the effort to find one.’

If you would like to know more about the festival, the celebrations and mythologies and where in Wellington to find the best moon cakes, perhaps speak to your friend or colleague who may be celebrating today. It is also a great excuse to try out those new phrases you may have picked up during this year’s Chinese Language Week!