Much ado is made about Chinese Lunar New Year, with most Taiwanese workers getting a week off to celebrate. However, Taiwan also has two other festivals that are quieter, more sedate celebrations of Chinese culture. Both use the contrast of darkness and night to highlight the beauty of light. One is the Moon Festival (aka Mid-Autumn Festival), which takes place during the autumn full moon. The other is the Lantern Festival, which follows immediately after Chinese New Year.
This year’s Moon Festival falls on Saturday, September 21. Already, Chinese bakeries and supermarkets are fully stocked with an array of decorative mooncake boxes. A popular gift during this festival, businesses give mooncakes to valued clients, while families give boxes to each other.
Mooncakes are typically round, but they can also be square. They are usually filled with red bean or lotus seed paste. In some, the cakes might have a preserved egg yolk or two in the center, symbolizing the full moon. The outer pastry is usually decorated with an intricate design of Chinese characters before being baked to a glazed golden brown. Due to the richness of each cake, they are usually enjoyed in slices.
During the full moon, family and friends gather to celebrate the festival by gazing at the moon while enjoying mooncakes. Today, this centuries old custom is continued in Taiwan and pockets of Chinese/Taiwanese communities worldwide.
Another festival popular in Taiwan is the Lantern Festival, which is held on the 15th day of the new lunar month. In the past, families might have taken the time to stroll near Taipei’s Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, to see the colorful light shows of giant lanterns and floats derived from Chinese zodiac animals or animated characters. These days, the festival is celebrated across the island.
In the 1990s, Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau decided to promote the festival worldwide. Since 2001, many major cities around the island have held special events linked to the Lantern Festival. Nowadays, the Tourism Bureau compiles a long list of activities for local and international visitors. The festival has become so popular it is now a part of Discovery Channel’s “Fantastic Festivals of the World” program.
Taiwanese people still celebrate by making paper lanterns, writing their wishes on them before setting them adrift into the night sky. The sight of hundreds of lanterns floating towards heaven is truly breathtaking.
This year, Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau, along with AAA Sojourns and television personality Liam Myclem, are offering a trip to see the Lantern Festival next year. The 10-day trip will depart on February 10 for Taiwan and Hong Kong. The bulk of the trip will be in Taiwan, discovering the island’s renowned food culture, famous night markets and taking specially arranged trips to Taiwan’s scenic countryside. Excursions to Sun Moon Lake, Antique Assam Tea Farms and other relaxing experiences will enliven the senses. The 2014 Taiwan Lantern Festival and Hong Kong Experience with Liam Mayclem starts at US$3,899.