Celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, the mid autumn festival (中秋節) literally translates to mid autumn festival. It also sometime called the moon festival. The reason for this is that this day is suppose to mark a full moon. While the celebration of the full moon has been around since the 1600’s in China, it’s traditions later came over to Taiwan.
This day is a national holiday so everyone in Taiwan has the day off. While there are many traditions and variations of stories about this festival, we highlight one version of one of the stories and a couple of traditions done in Taiwan.
Chang’E on the Moon
One of the most common stories around the mid autumn festival is about Chang’E (also known as Chang’O,) a beautiful goddess. However, the story start with a man called Hou-Yi. Back in the days, there were ten suns and they were brothers. They were instructed by the Jade Emperor to rotate their time out to play so that only one came out per day. However, one day they decide to all come out to have fun. However, as the ten suns came out, it scorched the earth and burned the crops. Hou-Yi, a renowned archer came out and said “Allow me to take out the suns!”
Hou-Yi notched his arrow and shot.
BAM! BAM! BAM!
Three suns down.
BAM! BAM! BAM!
Three more down.
BAM! BAM! BAM!
Three more down.
Just as Hou-Yi takes aim for the last one, Jade Emperor tells him “Woah! Don’t shoot the last one, or else the Earth will be cold and desolate!”
Hou-Yi claimed, “I am Hou-Yi. I do not leave a task undone. If there are ten targets, I will take them all down.”
“How about I make you a deal,” says the Jade Emperor, “If you leave one sun up, I will allow you to marry Cheng’E, this beautiful goddess.”
Upon looking at Chang’E’s beauty, Hou-Yi lowers his bow and agrees.
While Chang’E came down to Earth to now become mortal, she was given two pills of immortality to split between her and her husband once they are ready to come back to heaven.
After Hou-Yi saved mankind, he became the hero of the people. They started treated him like a king. Hou-Yi drank and ate all day, neglecting to continue his archery practice.
When Chang’E asked Hou-Yi if he would want to come to the heavens, he exclaimed,” Why would I want to be a lowly god in heaven when I can be a god among men.”
Seeing what Hou-Yi had become, Chang’E was extremely upset. However, she was homesick so she decided to take the pills herself. After taking one pill, she started to float up. Seeing this, Hou-Yi became furious. “Come down here!” Shouted Hou-Yi.
Hou-Yi grabs his dust gathered bow and notches an arrow. As he releases, the arrow misses its target. Furious, he grab arrow after arrow, shooting closer and closer to Chang’E.
Panicking that she may get hit, Chang’E swallows the second pill hoping to rise faster to the heavens. What she didn’t know is that by swallowing the second pill she went beyond the heavens and floated to the moon.
All this happened on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. To commemorate her, people would come out and keep her company on this day.
Change’E appeared on a conversation from the Apollo 11 trip, the first people to visit the moon.
Houston: Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning, is one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-O has been living there for 4,000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported.
Buzz Aldrin: Okay. We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.
While there are multiple traditions, edibles definitely take the spotlight.
This is the iconic food for the mid autumn festival. First is the symbolism of the pastry looking like the moon, there is a deeper history to the moon cake. While Chang’E is one of the most famous stories about the mid autumn festival, the moon cakes story may be even more exciting.
During the Yuan dynasty, the Mongols had taken over the Chinese territory so the local Hans wished to overtake them. Under strict surveillance, it was hard for them to coordinate so Zhu Yuanzhang (later the first Ming dynasty Emperor) and his advisor Liu Bowen devised to use the moon celebration as a ploy. In preparation for the celebrations, the Hans passed out round pastries. In each of these pastries hid a small message:
“八月十五殺韃子” – “On the 15th day of the 8th month, kill the Mongols!”
Since this, the moon cake has been the iconic pastry for this festival. Its roundness also represents the reunion of the family.
Of course a moon festival wouldn’t be complete without the actual viewing of the moon. Families typically gather outside to do a barbecue, spend time with each other all while enjoying the view of a full moon. While backyards are available in rural areas, major cities like Taipei may be harder. Many people will gather atop mountains or along the riverside parks.
Pomelo, a fruit native to South and Southeast Asia. The reasons for making hat out of this fruit for the children is very varied from blessing to the gods in heaven to the children receiving blessings from the Chang’E herself. Regardless, it’s a cut tradition so check out a dad making a pomelo hat for his son: