As the full moon wraps the Earth in its silver glow, the barbeque grills come out. Families and friends gather on rooftops, in some parks, and even on sidewalks. The conversation keeps pace with the sizzling flames as the smell of grilled meat and vegetable takes to the air.
Eyes gaze skyward to observe the moon in its glory.
Such are the scenes in Taiwan during Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as Moon Festival. The festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month — Sept. 21 this year. It is the day of the autumnal equinox when the moon is the fullest and brightest.
Moon Festival is one for reunions and families and friends generally go outdoors, where they can admire the moon in its beauty. Important activities on this special occasion, include eating moon cakes, which symbolize unity and togetherness; strolling under the full moon; and eating pomelos, since the Chinese term for this citrus fruit, which sounds like the Chinese words for “care and protection.”
The festival has a long history, dating back to ancient China and several accounts of its origin have survived. In Taiwan, the most popular version is an account of Hou Yi and his wife, Chang E (嫦娥) — although the exact details vary.
According to legend, Hou Yi won the elixir of immortality after he shot out of the sky nine suns that were scorching crops and driving people into dire poverty and ordering the remaining sun to rise and set according to time.
However, not wanting to leave his wife behind, Hou Yi gave her the elixir for safekeeping. Peng Meng saw where Chang E hid the elixir and waited until Hou Yi went hunting and used a sword to demand that Chang E hand over the portion. Chang E, knowing that she could not defeat Peng Meng, drank the elixir and turned into a celestial being.
When people heard of the story, they arranged incense tables in the moonlight and prayed to kind-hearted Chang E for good fortune and peace, leading to what is now Moon Festival.