Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Moon Festival!

Next Monday (Sept. 12) will be Moon Festival in Taiwan! In Chinese
it's called (zhong qiu jie), literally meaning Mid-Autumn Festival. It
is a harvest festival celebrated in China (and other places as well)
and over 3,000 years old. It was first linked to moon worship in the
Shang Dynasty.

Since a lot of people in China and Taiwan use the lunar calendar (and
it's fitting since it's a holiday about the moon), Mid-Autumn Festival
doesn't fall on the same day every year. In the lunar calendar it is
held on the 15th day of the 8th month. This is generally in September
or October. (On this day the moon is at it's fullest)

The traditional food to eat and give away is mooncake. I'm seeing it
everywhere now. Last year there were so many cakes around school that
I got sick of eating them. Shaped like a round moon, it has thin, soft
dough on the outside and different fillings on the inside. For
example, lotus seeds or egg yolks to symbolize the moon. There is
always an imprint on top- maybe the Chinese characters for longevity
or harmony or a picture of Chang'e or a rabbit. There's supposed to be
a real pain to make so people buy them at bakeries.

Pomelos are also a traditional food you see only at this time of the
year. Pomelos (or Chinese grapfruits) are the largest citrus fruit and
are native to Southeast Asia. It's about 1-2 lbs, pale green on the
outside and white flesh on the inside. It tastes a lot like a
grapefruit only less tart. They go well with mooncake and the Chinese
name for it sounds like the word for “blessing.” Often after you cut
the peel off the pomelo you put it on your head as a hat. I'm not
completely sure why, but it's really fun!

Moon Festival is actually a really important holiday for the Chinese.
It's a legal holiday so we get the day off! Family and friends will
get together to look up and admire the moon. There are many different
traditions celebrated in different places, but in Taiwan barbecuing
meat outside has become really popular.
There are lots of contradicting versions of stories about Moon
Festival, but the two main ones are about a couple (Hou yi and
Chang'e) and a rabbit. Hou yi is an archer and Chang'e is his wife,
who eventually comes to live on the moon. There was said to be ten
suns burning up the earth and Hou yi shot down all but one of the suns
to save everyone. The Emperor gave him a pill (or an elixir) of
eternal life as a reward. His wife Chang'e ate this pill and flew away
to the moon. There she asks the rabbit that lives on the moon to make
her a pill so that she can return to the earth. He is still pounding
the medicine in a mortar supposedly. Hou yi then goes to live on the
sun, and once a year on Moon Festival he goes to visit Chang'e. So
that is why the moon is so beautiful on that night.
All the details change in each version but that is the jist of it.
Some say that Hou yi grew mad with power so Chang'e ate the pill to
keep him from getting more power, others say that Chang'e was curious
and ate the pill because she wanted to know what would happen.

I'm going to celebrate Moon Festival the Taiwanese way by visiting some friends at their house outside of Taipei. We're going to barbecue and who knows what else! I'll make another post about it soon!

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