Moon Festival

Photograph of the full moon

Moon Festival, also known as Mid Autumn Festival, is an important cultural festival in Taiwan, dating back over 4000 years. It is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the lunar calendar, and this year (2014) it’s on September 8th which is a Monday and therefore a day off.

The festival originated as a harvest celebration, however, the core of the festival these days is to get families together, and more often than not, enjoy a barbecue.

Although many of the traditions have been lost, the core of the festival is based around the moon, as you’d expect. There is always a new moon on the day of the festival (hence the lunar calendar date), and if we are lucky it will be a clear night (although more often than not it seems to be cloudy.

Should we be able to see the moon, however, don’t point at the rabbit (or hare) that you will clearly be able to see, as legend goes that one of your ears will be cut off. No one has been able to tell me why, nor have I met any moon-pointing-related amputees. Still, ’tis up to you!

In addition to ear-lopping hares, the legend of Houyi and Changyi is central to the festival. In essence*, the story goes thus. There were once 10 suns, and each sun took turns at being in the sky. Suns being suns however, they started squabbling and all wanted to be in the sky at the same time. This was global warming on a massive scale, and the end was nigh. Houyi, a famed archer, decided he could shoot down nine of the suns with his mighty bow, and so he did. So relieved was the emperor at the time that he gave Houyi a pill granting eternal life. Houyi’s wife, Changyi, discovered said pill, took it, and ascended to to the moon where she lives with the hare to this day.

As with all festivals in Taiwan, food plays an important part and there are festival related treats for Moon Festival.

The most important is the moon cake. They come in a dazzling array of varieties, but essentially they either look like the moon (being round) and/or contain an egg yolk (being round and yellow). The general reaction to moon cakes tends to be mixed, and of course it depends on the kind you try.

The fruit most commonly associated with Moon Festival is the pomelo, which tastes like a mild grapefruit if you can get through the thick skin. Pomelos are more fun as after you peel off the thick skin it’s traditional to wear it as a hat, although again I haven’t been able to find an explanation of why beyond “Because it’s cute!”