BEIJING -- With this year`s Mid-Autumn Festival falling on Sunday, more than 4,000 athletes competing at the Beijing Paralympics are expected to get a taste of genuine Chinese traditions, while many of the Games` 44,000 volunteers are set to miss their family reunions.
The centuries-old festival, which arrives on August 15 on the Chinese lunar calendar, is traditionally an occasion to celebrate abundance and family reunion, as symbolized by the full moon of the night. It is also known as the Mooncake Festival for the typical round-shaped, usually sweet-stuffed pastry to be shared by the entire family.
Paralympic volunteers showcase their self-made "volunteer moon-cakes" at the volunteers`desk at Xidan subway station in Beijing Sept. 11, 2008. The moon-cake is a kind of traditional food that Chinese people eat on the Mid-Autumn Day, which falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. [Xinhua]
Meticulous preparations have been made to present a festive atmosphere in the Paralympic Village, where athletes from 147 countries and regions live through the September 6-17 Games, said Deng Yaping, the Village spokeswoman, on Saturday.
Mooncakes of different flavors will be served at the athletes main dining hall. Pamphlets on the origin of the festival will be available in Chinese, English and French languages. A 1.5-hour art show will be staged on the flag-raising square of the Village.
"It will be an opportunity for the athletes to get a first-hand experience of the traditional Chinese celebrations," Deng said.
The Village is a place for cultural exchanges, and all preparations for the upcoming festival aim to satisfy the needs of the athletes, coaches and officials who want to know different cultures and customs, she said.
Jen Armbruster, a visually-impaired goalball player from the United States, bought three bags of souvenirs from the Chinese Traditional Arts & Crafts Show in the Village.
She said she was interested in the Chinese culture and knew the Mid-Autumn Festival even before she came to China. The Festival is quite like the Thanksgiving Day in the States, as both celebrate family reunion, she added.
"I will play for medal tomorrow, so there is no particular celebration for the festival, but I will eat mooncake," she said.
Cindy Chang, a doctor with the American Paralympic team, said she has a lot to share about the festival with friends in the Village as a Chinese American very much familiar with its customs.
"I used to celebrate the day by having dinner together with my parents back in Ohio," she said.
She plans to call her parents on Sunday evening and also take some mooncakes back to her family and friends when she returns home after the Games.
Chang has already had some mooncakes in the Village restaurants, but is yet to find her favorite type with sweet bean paste fillings.
Nancy Morrison, an American woman whose daughter is a Paralympic swimmer, said she has no knowledge of the Chinese festival, but is glad to celebrate it by watching some art performances and tasting the mooncakes.
For the Chinese, this year`s festival is all the more special because the government has for the first time made it a public holiday with one official day-off.
But unlike the ordinary citizens who can enjoy a three-day break together with the weekends, most of the 44,000 volunteers serving the Beijing Paralympics will just have another regular working day on Sunday.
Wang Wenzhong, a volunteer who helps the athletes to carry their luggage in the Paralympic Village, said it`s certainly a pity to miss the family reunion as he will be on duty on Sunday.
"But it will also be interesting to spend the day with so many great athletes from all over the world," he said. "And I think it will be a memorable experience to enjoy the sight of a full moon and eat mooncakes in the Village."