The Story of the Moon Festival in Taiwan
The Moon Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節) is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month each year. This is one of the three major festivals in Chinese culture throughout the world. It is said that the full moon of this lunar month is the largest and most beautiful of the whole year.
The origin of this festival goes back thousands of years and is related to both agriculture and religious themes. However, in Taiwan, there is one story that remains consistently told about it’s origin.
Here’s a basic recounting of the story.
During the time of the emperor Yao some 4,000 years ago, nine suns mysteriously appeared in the sky and began to scorch and ruin the crops and threaten the lives of the people with their heat. Hou Yi, a warrior, shot down the nine suns and saved the crops and all of mankind. In return, Emperor Yao gave him the title of Shen Yi the Divine Archer and also a pill of immortality from the Queen Mother of the west. The pill was given to him with her warning which was this. He was not to take the pill until he had spent a year meditating, preparing and fasting. (In Taichung, you may have visited the famous Nine Suns Bakery – it is named for this story) 九個太陽 No. 92號, Section 1, Taiwan Blvd, Central District Taichung City, 400
Unfortunately, Yi’s wife, Chang was unable to resist the temptation of having immortality and took the pill without her husbands knowledge. While her husband was away, she took the pill and started to float upwards. He returned and saw her flying away into the sky and tried to follow her to bring her back, but was returned to earth by a strong wind.
Chang kept going up and up until she reached the cold and barren moon, where the only living thing was a cassia tree. She coughed up the remains of the pill, which then turned into a beautiful white jade rabbit, which began grinding cinnamon from the Cassia tree to make the drug of immortality.
On this one day of the year, at the full moon, is the only time Shen Yi and Chang can be together.
So what do Taiwanese do on this holiday？
They eat moon cakes! – these cakes of course symbolize the moon and it is a national pastime of pastry cooks to design and create as many types and flavors as possible.
They get together! – in Chinese history, many people worked and served far away from their family, so large festival days were often the only time they could see their families. This tradition of family gathering has remained an important part of every major Chinese holiday.
And in Taiwan – BBQ. Perhaps a unique tradition in most of Asia, or it might be catching on. Taiwanese love to spend this holiday with family and friends at a traditional BBQ.