Today brings another great holiday in Taiwan, Moon Festival (or Mid-Autumn Festival.) The holiday is based on the legend of a man and his wife (in some versions they were immortals who lost their powers and were banished to earth.) As with most stories passed down over the years, there are many versions, but here are the basics:
Houyi was a great hunter and archer. He had a wife named Chang'e. At this time the earth had ten suns, they were in the form of birds, and they lived in the east sea. Each day one sun would fly around the world, however one day, all ten flew together. Because of this, the world began to burn, and the emperor called for Houyi to shoot down all but one sun-bird. As a reward for his success, the emperor gave him a pill, that once taken would grant eternal life. The pill was strong, so only half a pill was needed to grant the consumer eternity. Houyi hid the pill in his house, waiting to take it. One day while he was away Chang'e discovered the pill and curiosity winning out, she takes the whole pill. When Houyi returned home he realized what she had done.
One story tells that Chang'e realizing the pill also gave her the power of flight, flies out the window to avoid her husband's reprimand. She landed on the moon and lives there still with a Jade rabbit, who she has asked to make another pill for Houyi. Another version says that she floated there from overdosing. However, once a year Houyi is able to visit her in a palace on the moon, and this is why the moon shines so brightly this time of year.
Today the holiday is celebrated with a few traditions. The most common being Moon Cakes. These are small round cakes, with a light crust. They are traditionally filled with things like red beans or taro, however, modern flavors like tiramisu, banana milk, chocolate, and more have come into existence.
Pomelos also play an important role in the holiday. These citrusy fruits are peeled open and enjoyed, but their peels are turned into hats for children. Wearing them allows the lady of the moon to see their children better since the moon beams bounce strongly off the bright colored peels. This is to increase the chances of their prayers being answered.
The final tradition is a modern one, reaching only a decade or two back. Groups of family and friends gather over small grills to barbecue a variety of food. Last year I went to one, where family and friends collected in a small alleyway. We had a few tables, and for hours the food kept coming. Soup, beef, corn, beans, squid, fish, onions, tofu, were passed around. I left completely stuffed, but not after being persuaded into staying a bit longer, because the fish (or tofu, or steak) had just finished and I had to try it. This year I went for a quieter affair. Eating moon cakes in my room while the smell of barbecue and incense offerings from the nearby temple waft through my window, it's a very soothing Sunday night.