The festival is one of the biggest holidays in Taiwan. It’s a special occasion for a family to reunite and share stories over a BBQ. The main features of this festival are the mooncake and pomelo (read #3 below). Mooncake is a pastry in the shape of the moon. They come in many flavors, but the most popular are red bean and mung bean. They are often filled with egg yolk. The round shape of the mooncake represents not only the moon, but unity of the family.
Every year, the festival is held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. This year, it will be held on September 24th. On this day, the moon will be one of the biggest and brightest full moons of the year. In Kaohsiung, the Mountains in Gushan and Dapingding offer great views of the full moon. The origins of the festival are as varied as what people BBQ.
Origins of the Festival
There are many versions of the history of the Mid-Autumn Festival, depending on who you talk to. In Taiwan, one of the more prevalent stories revolves around a 3,000-year-old long-lost love story: Once upon a time, there were 10 suns. These sons scorched the earth, so nothing could be harvested. An expert archer (Hou Yi) then shot down 9 suns, leaving the 1 remaining sun we see today. The harvests returned and as a reward, he was given a pill for immortality by the then king. His wife (Chang’e) found the pill and swallowed it without knowing what it was. Then, she started to float to the moon and has become immortal. On the moon, she has a companion, a rabbit. Her beloved and grieving husband died a mortal, alone on the earth. People felt sorrow for the two lovers, thus starting the festival as we know it today.
And all this time, we thought Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon.
It represents the moon and unity. However, it is also said that the mooncake played a turning point in ancient Chinese history. During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Mongol warlords controlled large parts of China and oppressed the Han Chinese. A rebellion was planned and since there wasn’t My Kaohsiung’s Facebook page to share information back then, the Han warriors coordinated the rebellion by putting a hidden message inside the mooncakes, which only the Han ate. The result was the overthrow of the Mongols and the return of rule to the Han ethnic group.
#1: The holiday has turned into a BBQ feast for the family gathering.
This started with an advertisement by a BBQ sauce company that went viral. In Kaohsiung, a popular place to BBQ is Cheng Ching Lake, which has brick ovens for public use. But, you will see many families BBQing in front of their houses or businesses. The local people are also very warm and giving, often sharing the BBQ with strangers, especially foreigners. One cannot go wrong by offering mooncakes as presents to friends and family. One may even receive a BBQ invitation in return.
#2: There’s only one option for the BBQ
“Everything.” Anything that can be BBQ’d will be BBQ’d! Example: fish heads, fish stomachs, beef tongues, squids, oysters, shrimps, crabs, clams, tempuras, meatballs, sausages, mullet fish roe, bamboo shoots, chicken skin, chicken tails, and even marshmallow. Before you squirm about the fish head and beef tongue, “don’t knock it, until you try it.”
#3: Pomelo brings good luck.
You will find children often encouraged (forced) by the parents to wear the skin of the pomelo as a hat in the hope of bringing fortune. There are two thoughts on the origins of this practice. First, it is said that pomelo was the favorite fruit of Chang’e and that she would bring blessings to those wearing the pomelo hat as they were easier to spot from the moon. Second, it is a play on the homonym (同音異義詞) of the word for pomelo, youzi (柚子), where it sounds like the word for “protection” youzi ( 佑子). Interestingly, the pomelo is a seasonal fruit during the festival.
Lighted lanterns are also popular with children during the festival. It is said that the lanterns light up the earth to make it easier for Chang’e to see.
Avoid the highway all costs. Since it’s a major holiday, the whole of Taiwan will be traveling on the highway and it will be congested. If you do travel via highway, be prepared with food, drinks and entertainment for the kids. Alternative forms of transportation are trains and High Speed Rail. Due to the volume of traffic on the highway, access will be limited to vehicles with 3 or more passengers. Traditionally, the highway will be toll-free during the evening through early morning hours. Once “My Kaohsiung” gets more information on the traffic situation, we will post an update.