Last Updated on 08-29-2022
The Mid-Autumn Festival also called the Moon Festival or the Mooncake Festival, is one of the most important events in Taiwan, along with the Chinese Lunar New Year and the Dragon Boat Festival. Family reunion is the most important aspect of this festival. As a foreigner living in Taiwan, maybe your family is on the other side of the world, but as you are diving into this new culture, you can also make good use of this holiday and reminisce about the good times you had with your family and friends abroad. It is the time to get together with the friends you have in Taiwan and be grateful for everyone and everything in your life(a little like Thanksgiving). In this article, we will talk about the Mid-autumn festival, its importance, and how to enjoy it.
Mid-Autumn Festival Origins
Where does this festival come from? How is it related to the moon? This famous festival started over 3000 years ago. It was an occasion for families and communities to get together and celebrate the harvest that follows the summer. The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese lunar calendar. Therefore, the exact day varies; for example, this year it will be on September 10th, while in 2023 it will be on September 29th. It’s interesting, don’t you think?
The Mid-Autumn Festival also called the Moon Festival, originated from the custom of worshiping the moon and celestial phenomena in autumn. In ancient times, emperors would make offerings to the gods in celebration of the year’s harvest and pray to also have a good one in the coming year. It was also the time of the year for an emperor to reward his officials for their hard work and contributions. Over the years, it evolved into a festival with many customs: to pray for better luck, fortune, and fertility, and get together with family and friends to celebrate and give thanks to the moon.
The Moon festival is also celebrated in many other Asian countries, such as Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
Mooncake Festival: Related legends and stories
There are many legends about the Mooncake Festival and many poets have written poems about them. The most famous legends are The Story of Chang’e, the Chinese Goddess of the Moon, and The Story of the Jade Rabbit.
The Story of Chang’e
This story is about an archer hero called Hou Yi and his wife Chang’e. The legend says that after shooting down 9 out of the 10 suns that brought disaster to the country, Hou Yi was rewarded with an elixir of immortality. One of his apprentices, Feng Meng, tried to steal the elixir so his wife Chang’e drank it and became immortal and flew to the moon. She was then never able to see her husband Hou Yi again.
After learning what happened to his wife, Hou Yi would prepare a feast on this day every year during the full moon, hoping he could see his wife’s shadow. They say that until now, those who pay attention during the full moon will be able to see a glimpse of Chang’e in the moon.
The Story of the Jade Rabbit
There are three animals in a forest: a fox, a rabbit, and a monkey. One day, Heaven’s Emperor wanted to see which animal was worthy, so he sent three immortals from heaven to earth. They disguised themselves as poor old men and were begging for food from the animals. The animals did their best to find food, except the rabbit, who was too small to look for food for them. Since he couldn’t give them anything, he ran into a raging fire and asked them to eat his meat. The three men were moved and decided to take the rabbit to heaven to keep company with Chang’e on the moon. The rabbit is commonly known as the Jade rabbit.
The Story of Wu Gang Chopping the Cherry Bay
Wu Gang was a human who was obsessed with becoming immortal but was not a hard worker and never tried to learn the necessary magic. The Emperor of Heaven became mad at him because of his attitude and decided to punish him. He planted a big cherry bay tree on the moon, which was about 5,000 feet high, and asked Wu Gang to cut it down. If he does it, Wu Gang will then become immortal.
This time, Wu Gang worked very hard, but guess what? He was never able to finish it because every time he cut down the tree it grew back again. However, Wu Gang never gave up and kept cutting down the tree to become a deity. Legends say he is still trying now, therefore, during the full moon you can see Wu Gang’s shadow on the moon trying to cut down the tree.
What are your thoughts on these stories?
How to celebrate the Mid-autumn festival
“May we live long and share the beauty of the moon together, even if we are hundreds of miles apart.” This line is from a famous poem written by Su Shi, and it perfectly describes the spirit of the Mid-Autumn Festival. But how do Taiwanese people exactly celebrate the Mooncake Festival?
Gathering of family and friends for dinner
Let’s start with the most important part of the Mid-Autumn festival: family and friends gathering. In most people’s minds, the roundness of the moon represents the reunion of the family (the Mid-Autumn Festival day is also the full moon day). Therefore, on the evening of the Moon Festival, families would get together to eat. The public holiday is mainly for Taiwanese people working in different places to have enough time to reunite. Those who stay far away from their families usually get together with friends. What about you? Where will you be for the Moon festival this year?
What would be the Moon Festival without the mooncakes? They are the most representative food for the Mid-Autumn festival, which is probably why it is also called the Mooncake festival. These round and sweet mooncakes represent completion and sweetness. During the festival, people will eat mooncakes together or give them to others as an expression of love. They are usually eaten while admiring the moon. People would even queue for long hours just to buy their favorites.
They come in different types of flavors and these are the top 5, that foreigners must try: chocolate, ice cream, cream cheese, lotus seed paste, and fruit/vegetable. Häagen-Dazs even has its own style of mooncake. You should try it out!
This tradition started not long ago with a local barbecue sauce manufacturer who wanted to sell out its barbecue sauce and started to encourage people to host barbecues during the Moon Festival. Although we would all agree that they just wanted to make money out of it, this started this moonlight barbecue movement throughout the country. Since then, the Moon Festival day would not be complete without lighting the grill for a barbecue while enjoying the moon. Family and friends would try to finish up their barbecues, some even play rock, paper, scissors, and the loser will have to finish up what’s on the grill. Get ready to play! Chances are you will be invited to one of these barbecue nights.
The following is the commercial that started the moonlight barbecue movement.
The making of pomelo hats and stories about the moon
We all know that children love stories, so parents seize this occasion to tell the stories that I mentioned earlier. Parents and children would sit together to admire the moon, and as a game, the children would try to look closely at the moon and try to find the shape of Chang’e, the Jade Rabbit, and Wu-Gang on the moon.
Along with barbecue and mooncakes, Taiwanese people will eat pomelo during the Mid-Autumn festival. After they finish the pomelo, they will wear its peel as a hat to bring good fortune to the family. The elderly believe that Chang’E’s favorite fruit is pomelo, and while she is on the moon, she will have better consideration for those who wear pomelo hats and will more likely answer their prayers and bless them with good fortune for the year. (I guess I will start wearing those hats too).
Observing and taking pictures of the moon
Obvious! I know! But it is one of the most common things they do during the Moon Festival. Usually, the weather is great and the sky is clear on that day; so when you are walking in the streets, you will see many people taking pictures of the moon. Many Taipei residents will go to Yangmingshan, or the Elephant Mountain, near Taipei 101 to enjoy the moon. In the country’s culture, the full moon represents a family reunion, and it is said that on the night of the Mid-Autumn festival, the moon is at its brightest and most beautiful.
Mid-Autumn Festival taboos
There are many taboos around the Mid-Autumn Festival. Chances are you will not understand them but if you do believe in superstition, you just have to follow them. It has been the case since ancient times although, with evolution, most of them have been slowly forgotten. Among many of those taboos, I selected a few that you may think are interesting.
Wedding on the Moon Festival day
One of the most important taboos is the wedding on the Moon Festival. Depending on how long you have been living in Taiwan, you might notice that many weddings have been held on different festival days except on the Mid-Autumn Festival. Why is that? As you may recall earlier in the article, I talked about the story of Chang’e flying to the moon. Since the story is about the parting between lovers (a sad story), it is then not advised to get married on that day otherwise you will bring bad luck to you and your spouse.
Moon worshiping and Mid-Autumn Festival celebration
Although, the Moon Festival is to worship the moon. However, not everyone is allowed to do that or even celebrate the day.
- There is a saying that men cannot worship the moon. The ancients believed that men are masculine and have Yang energy, while the moon has Yin energy, so they were not compatible. So, men should avoid worshiping the moon to avoid a clash of different energies.
- During the Mid-Autumn Festival, if you feel weak, tired, or have poor health, you cannot enjoy or worship the moon. Especially women who have recently had a miscarriage or just given birth. Whether it is on your balcony or outside in the wild, you better not look at the moon.
- If your recent finances were meager and you were in a bad mood for reasons such as: work is not good, your exam was bad, your family is not doing well, etc., It is better not to worship the moon.
- If you just broke up with your partner, a guy should not look at the moon or conduct any outdoor activities on the moon festival day.
Do not cover your forehead with bangs
During the Mid-Autumn Festival, it is best not to cover your forehead with bangs. The ancients believed that a person’s forehead is his/her magic lamp. So when you are worshiping the moon, you should not cover it otherwise you will attract bad luck. They will advise you to brush your hair backward or on both sides and you will get the blessings of the moon’s god.
Don’t point your fingers at the moon
We know that the Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as the Moon Festival. It is said that Wu Gang and Chang’e live on the moon and both of them are special types of deities so it is recommended not to point your fingers directly at the moon to avoid disrespecting the gods. If you do that the moon will cut your ear so be careful!
Do not swim at night
At night, The moon reflects on the swimming pool or any natural water such as sea, lake, etc. It is inappropriate to swim during that time to avoid being rude to the moon’s god.
Don’t tease rabbits
I am sure you remember the story of the Jade Rabbit. Well, according to the ancients, Chang’e loves rabbits a lot, and Jade Rabbit is currently on the moon with her. It is then recommended that people who are raising rabbits be particularly gentle with them before and after the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Do not eat unround-shaped mooncakes
During the Moon Festival, it is said not to eat unround mooncakes or fruits. As we may recall, the roundness of mooncakes represents reunion and togetherness so eating mooncakes that have other shapes will bring quarrels or conflict with others. If your favorite mooncake’s flavor does not come in a round shape, well I guess you will not be able to eat it.
Bonus: Do not put the pomelo hat on your pet’s head because it will expose them to some health risks. Do you believe that?
These fatalism requirements are not necessarily true now, but we know that traditional customs should be respected.
Some interesting facts about the Mid-Autumn festival
- The Mid-Autumn festival has over 3000 years of history.
- It is also called the “Moon Festival” or “Mooncake Festival”.
- The date of the Moon festival changes every year. For example, this year it’s on September 10th, while in 2023 it will be on September 29th.
- The Mid-Autumn Festival does not always occur on the night of the full moon, despite popular belief that the moon is at its brightest on that day. The lunar calendar does not perfectly correspond with the cycles of the moon, but the 15th day of the 8th lunar month is always within two days of the full moon night.
- It is a time for a family reunion.
- The roundness of the mooncakes represents togetherness and completion. Giving mooncakes is a way to express your love and appreciation.
- The mooncakes have various flavors so you will surely find your favorite.
- On the Moon Festival day, you will see many Taiwanese people in the streets taking pictures of the moon.
- Taiwan is not the only country that celebrates the Moon festival. Other Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, Iran, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and others also celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, but in their distinctive ways. Although their traditions might be different, they all take time to appreciate the moon and share food.
Which Mid-Autumn Festival activity are you most looking forward to? Moonlight barbecue, Family/friends dinner, or will you be eating mooncakes while gazing at the moon?