I apologize for posting this so late, but the past few days have been somewhat of an adventure. Yesterday, my fiancé and I tagged along with a friend to volunteer at an animal shelter in sān zhī 三芝, near dàn shuĭ 淡水 in Taipei county(or xīn bĕi shì 新北市 if you prefer). Expect a detailed write-up on that tomorrow. The day before yesterday, however, was one of the major holidays in Taiwan, Moon Festival.
Moon Festival, or more accurately Mid-Autumn Festival Zhōng qiū jié 中秋節 in Mandarin, is an important national holiday that, much as Halloween or Thanksgiving, finds its roots in ancient harvest-time traditions. 中秋節 is celebrated during the full moon of the fifteenth day of the eight month of the traditional Chinese lunar calendar nóng lì 農曆. As a harvest festival, there must be a food that is in abundance, and in Taiwan there is no lack of pomelos yòu zi 柚子 at this time, and chances are if you are in Taiwan during 中秋節, you will be given enough of these citrus fruits to feed a family, so eat up and enjoy!
(A pair of pomelos)
(We didn’t have anyone do it this year, but one thing that kids often do is wear the cut-off pomelo skin as a hat! This picture is from a few years ago)
As with most traditional festivals, there are many interesting stories that accompany 中秋節, and the moon in general. For example, where Western people see a man in the moon, Taiwanese people see a rabbit!
As amusing as that is, there is a much cooler story associated with the moon. In the story of cháng é 嫦娥 and hòu yì 后羿, rather than the one sun we have, the sky was filled with ten suns! Don’t forget your sunscreen! 后羿 was a renowned archer and shot down nine of the suns with his bow(beat that Robbin Hood!), and having seen this an immortal sent him an elixir of immortality(a fancy way to say “live-forever juice”). He chose not to drink it so that he could stay with his wife on Earth, but as the story unfolds 嫦娥 ends up drinking the elixir and flies into the sky to live on the moon. So 后羿 started to place the things she liked in their garden so she could see them and not feel lonely. His neighbors started doing it too, and that’s how the Moon Festival began!
Every year during Moon Festival, Taiwanese families gather together and have a good old fashioned BBQ. We go to Keelung jī lóng 基隆 to return to my fiancé’s great-grandmother’s céng zŭ mŭ 曾祖母 home, where we meet every year. It is always nice to return to Keelung, as that was the first place I lived in Taiwan. It was a little bittersweet this time, however, as a recent heavy rain caused a building to collapse, and a near-catastrophic accident when a huge boulder fell out of the mountains and crashed into the street, nearly smashing a passing car. It really hit me close to home, as I used to live just a few minutes down the road from there, and Ruby still has a lot of relatives in the area. Luckily everyone was safe, but the families that lived in the collapsed building have lost their homes, and several businesses, including the local McDonalds have shut-down. But life goes on.
(Ruby trying to calm the dogs down…they may look innocent, but they barked the whole train ride to Keelung!)
(The patio in front of Ruby’s great-grandmother’s house is a great place to catch some fresh air…family gatherings are fun, but it’s nice to take a breather for a minute and check your emails.)
With a typhoon forecast to arrive, we had expected our BBQ to be ruined, but we lucked out. The rain wasn’t bad(rare for Keelung!) and it stopped by the time we started to barbecue and didn’t return until we were on our way back to Taoyuan County. We spent the afternoon chatting, watching TV, playing cards and eating moon-cakes yuè bing 月餅 and other snacks. Then in the evening we had our BBQ!
(月餅 were created in the moon’s image by a general during the Tang Dynasty so that his soldiers would be able to carry them easily, and because they could last for a longer time. Now we eat them as a delicious snack, but they were originally created as military rations! Above are a few pictures of the ones we had this year. The first one has an egg-yolk and red bean paste filling, and the other has a green bean paste filling.)
(Did I mention that I really like moon-cakes? And apparently my dog does too!)
(First, we have to get the coals nice and hot. Using a paper plate it a nice way…)
(But this hair-dryer works faster!)
(Now let’s get cooking!)
(L: Ruby with her family, grilling the night away R: The best thing about being on grill-duty is you get easy access to all the food!)
中秋節 is one of my favorite traditional festivals, it’s a great time to relax, forget your worries and enjoy good food and good company. Thank for reading and Happy Moon Festival!
Chinese phrases of the day:
中秋節= Moon Festival/Mid-Autumn Festival
農曆= traditional Chinese lunar calendar