2015 Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節) falls on September 27th. The holiday lasts from September 26th to 27th. Due to the pleasant autumn weather this is a peak time for travel.
Falling on the 15th day of the 8th month according to the Chinese lunar calendar, the Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the 3 most important festivals after the Spring Festival and the Dragon-boat Festival in Taiwan. It takes its name from the fact that it is always celebrated in the middle of the autumn season. The day is also known as the Moon Festival, as at that time of the year the moon is at its roundest and brightest.
Mid-Autumn Festival is an inherited custom of moon sacrificial ceremonies. The ancient Chinese observed that the movement of the moon had a close relationship with changes of the seasons and agricultural production. Hence, to express their thanks to the moon and celebrate the harvest, they offered a sacrifice to the moon on autumn days.
This custom could be traced back to the Zhou Dynasty (1046 – 256 BC) and was more often practiced by the royal class on the Autumnal Equinox. At that time, the custom had no festival background at all. Later in the Sui (581 – 618 AD) and Tang (618 – 907 AD) dynasties, social prosperity inspired the custom of appreciating the moon on the moon sacrifice ceremony day among common people and the two merged. The people expressed their faith more liberally than the royal class and so they did not strictly hold their activities on the Autumnal Equinox. So August 15th of the Chinese lunar calendar, the closest full moon day to the Autumnal Equinox, turned out to be a better choice and was set as a fixed festival. This happened in the Tang Dynasty. By the time of the Northern Song Dynasty (960 – 1127 AD), Mid-Autumn Festival had already become a widely celebrated folk festival.
A romantic legend about the festival is to commemorate Chang’e, who ate her husband’s elixir and flew to the moon.
A long, long time ago, a terrible drought plagued the earth. Ten suns burned fiercely in the sky like smoldering volcanoes that scorched the trees and grass, cracked and parched the land and dried up the river. Many people died of hunger and thirst.
The King of Heaven sent Hou Yi down to the earth to help. When Hou arrived, he took out his red bow and white arrows and shot down the nine suns, one after another. The weather immediately got cooler, heavy rains filled the rivers with fresh water, and the grass and trees turned green. Life was restored and humanity was saved.
One day, a charming, young woman, Chang’e, was on her way home from a stream, holding a bamboo container. A young man approached her and asked for a drink. When Chang’e saw the red bow and white arrows around his belt, she immediately recognized him as the savior, Hou Yi. Offering him a drink, Chang’e plucked a beautiful flower and gave it to him as a token of respect. Hou, in turn, selected a beautiful silver fox fur as his gift to her. This encounter sparked their love for one another and they were soon married.
To enjoy a happy life with Chang’e forever, Hou decided was looking for the elixir of life. Hou traveled to the Kunlun Mountains where the Western Queen Mother lived. Showing appreciation of saving the countless lives, the Western Queen Mother rewarded Hou with the elixir, a fine powder made from fruit kernels that grew on the tree of eternity. Only if Hou and Chang’e drank it together, they would both have eternal lives.
Hou and his wife decided to drink the elixir together on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month when the moon was full and bright. But a wicked and merciless man named Feng Meng overheard their plan. He was eager for an immortal life. When the day was coming, Feng killed Hou on his way home from hunting. The murderer then arrived at Hou’s home demanding Chang’e to give him the elixir. Without a moment’s hesitation, Chang’e picked up the elixir and drank it. Soon, Chang’e felt herself being lifted towards the heaven. Chang’e decided to live on the moon because it was closest to the earth. There, she never forgot her deep love for Hou and the people who had shared in their sadness and joys.
On the festival day, family members gather to offer sacrifice to the moon, appreciate the bright full moon, eat moon cakes, and express strong yearnings toward family members and friends who live afar. In addition, there are some other customs like playing lanterns, and dragon and lion dances in some regions. The unique customs of ethnic minorities are interesting as well, such as “chasing the moon” of Mongolians, and “steal vegetables or fruits” of the Dong people.
Moon cakes are the special food of Mid-Autumn Festival. People sacrifice moon cakes to the moon and est them for celebration. Moon cakes come in various flavors according to the region. The moon cakes are round, symbolizing the reunion of a family, so it is easy to understand how the eating of moon cakes under the round moon can evoke longing for distant relatives and friends. People also give moon cakes to relatives and friends to demonstrate the wishes of a long and happy life.
BBQ Celebration in Taiwan
With all the traditional activities still carry out, a new custom during the Mid-Autumn Festival somehow started throughout the past twenty years in Taiwan. Barbeque has become more and more popular during this time of the year. It has nothing to do with any tradition. No one knows exactly how this began. The event just somehow became what people do during this time, a must do. The festival is a holiday when the family gathers and celebrates together, and now they barbeque. Large barbeque events are even held in every city. It’s a new and interesting way to celebrate the harvest festival, and a joyful reunion and wonderful gathering. It’s a great chance to cook up some good times in Taiwan!