East Asia is now celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival also known as Moon Festival. It is held on the 15th day of the 8th Lunar month and this year it falls on Tuesday, September 21st. Taiwanese families will come together and celebrate eating mooncakes, maybe make a small BBQ and enjoy the 4-day or 3-day holiday from September 17th (or 18th) to September 21st. Coincidentally, Belize's Independence Day this year falls exactly on the same day as the Moon Festival's, on September 21st. As you will soon find out, the celebrations will have a few similarities and a lot of differences.
According to some Taiwanese friends, traditionally, families will take this holiday time to make mooncakes and share among their family and friends. But, what are mooncakes? Imagine a stuffed flour based cake, round like a full moon. The fillings are made out of egg yolk, lotus paste, meat, taro or sweet beans (yes, we eat sweet beans in this part of the world). Making mooncakes is not so easy, I am told, as it requires special skills. If you are a foreigner in Taiwan, sometimes your boss, your coworker or your friend will share one or two or gift you with an entire beautifully packaged box of delicious mooncakes. I take it to mean, they are sharing part of their culture with us. The thought really gives you a warm feeling!
I remember my Taiwanese classmates at the university used to plan BBQs by the riverside and many of them would go in large groups. During this celebration time, I have seen families sitting together in front of their houses, laughing, talking and making their BBQ. At supermarkets such as RT Mart, they usually display all the items one would need to be prepared for this festival. Some include portable non-expensive BBQ grills, bags of coal, baskets of tongs and BBQ sauce brushes, butane canisters, etc. Something really interesting and unique about BBQing in Taiwan has been using "candies" as fire starters. They aren't really candies although they look like it. They seem to be made out of recycled plastic material to make the fire start faster. I can see your reaction now and I know what you are thinking, "Oh, you mean like how we use plastic bags to...oh...I get it." Yep!
During my teaching days, I had a class of teenagers who would share a lot of their cultural traditions with me. In that class, I learnt that celebrating the Moon Festival in Taiwan is not an ancient tradition but fairly new. According to the 3-decade legend, a Taiwanese barbeque sauce company made an advertisement in 1986 and entitled it "一家烤肉萬家香" or in my interpretation, "One family's BBQ, will make ten thousand families smell the fragrance." That BBQ sauce company hired a famous celebrity as the brand ambassador to help instill the Mid-Autumn BBQ idea in families. Supermarkets like Carrefour helped to promote the sauce's sales by selling the family BBQ get-together idea. And, oh boy did it work. I haven't met a Taiwanese person yet who doesn't mention BBQ when asked what will they do during the Moon Festival holidays. This year, sadly, depending on where you live in Taiwan, they may or may not allow large groups to gather by the designated BBQ areas.
While ten thousand families might not be able to enjoy the BBQ fragrances by the riverside or parks due to the public spaces BBQ restrictions, they will have an overdue relaxing holiday time beside their loved ones.
Making Pomelo Hats
I also remember my 7-year-old students being excited to know that the Moon Festival was coming soon. For them, it meant that not only will they eat BBQ and mooncakes but they can have fun making pomelo hats. Their parents help them use the pomelo peel to make a make-shift hat. Pomelos in Chinese are called 柚子 Youzi, which also sounds like 佑子 youzi or "protect the child." My daughter's nanny received a bunch of pomelos from her hometown and gave us a few so we made a hat for the baby. We actually made two, you know, for double the protection. Could work...you never know~
Admiring the Full Moon
Imagine this: It is now evening and you are with your family, outside of your house, grilling up some BBQ with fresh veggies and other food, drinking your favorite drink, laughing and talking and suddenly someone says, "Look at the moon!" You turn around and there it is, the biggest, brightest, most beautiful moon you have seen all year round. You stare in amazement and wonderful, heart-warming thoughts settle in. You are grateful to be alive in this day. What else can you ask for?
This must be the feeling Taiwanese families have when admiring the full moon during this special holiday. Parents and grandparents start to tell the kids the traditional stories of Chang'e, Goddess of the Moon or The Jade Rabbit. If the BBQ is among friends, they probably still stare at the moon, remember the tales their parents used to tell them and recount the wonderful memories they have made when celebrating the Moon Festival while growing up. The full moon has deep meaning for this particular holiday; it symbolizes the family reunion, as the moon looks like a circle and a circle has no end.
Belize, on the other hand has no lunar calendar, no matter if it is the middle of the week or weekend, Independence Day is celebrated on the exact day September 21st falls on. This year, Belizeans are celebrating their 40th Independence Day with the theme "Belize @40: Hopeful Hearts, Steady Hands, Together We Rise" coined by Alexandria Villanueva and Akeem Cooper. And just like in Taiwan, this September 21st will be a bittersweet holiday as there are COVID restrictions in place, hindering the full celebration. But, we cannot let the COVID rain stop the online-reggae jam, can we? We shouldn't! So join me in getting to know how Belizeans used to and would have been celebrating this very important day:
Growing up, in my family, we would only get new clothes for two big holidays, one was Christmas and the other was Independence Day. I used to love Independence Day celebrations in my hometown, Benque Viejo, because we would get to run out of our homes and go to the main road to wait for the parade to pass by. In those days, Leading the parade would be the police car followed by the fire engine truck, Youth Cadets, Batonistas hired from the Guatemalan side and we would even have our very own primary school batonistas or "pom pom girls". There would be beautifully decorated and brightly colored floats representing our National Symbols or whatever the theme was that year. There were different groups of Carnival-dressed participants dancing behind their very own music trucks. Almost at the end, there would be a big truck honking its loud horns and booming loud music. People on top of the truck would be throwing candy to onlookers. Behind the big truck, a bunch of teenagers jumping up without a care in the world, moving to the Belizean and Caribbean Soca and Punta beats by Tanya Carter, Supa G, Square One, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Punta Rebels and other Belizean artists. And behind all of that, a long line of personal vehicles full of families or friends, dressed in their red, white and blue brand new clothes (or new to them) and waving up their Belizean flags up in the sky. Different towns have similar parades, some more colorful, some even more lively. This year, I doubt any parade will happen but who knows, maybe there will be some. Still, these thoughts makes me miss my little Belize!
BBQ ina dih Yaad (BBQ in the yard)
Just like the Taiwanese on the Moon Festival holiday, Belizeans will also be cooking up their BBQs in their yards and preparing Belize's delicious rice and beans, stew chicken, cole slaw, flour tortillas, baked beans, cheese dip, ceviche...oh, and no goh faaget the Belikin beer! They will be playing loud, loud music. So loud that the neighbor can just save his electricity bill and won't have to play their own, but you know they still will! The sounds emanating are similar to those of a Taiwanese night market or the Benque Fair. As you pass by, different songs play side by side, just that these are played from the morning until late at night (ok, maybe until 10 p.m.) Families and friends will gather, talk, laugh, dance and you might even see the kids dancing in the yard. The Caribbean vibes which were dormant throughout the other months of the year, sprout to life.
Every year, one of the prominent September celebrations events would be that some Caribbean artist(s) would be invited to come and perform at the Civic Center in Belize City. Some municipalities would hire Belizean artists and music bands such as Supa G and Gilharry 7 and have a "dance" at the local center. The youths and the young-at-heart would attend these dances or they would go to their favorite disco or bar where they would party and dance the night away until 3 or 4 am. Some parents would leave their kids with grandparents and also join in on the fun. Why not?
This year there will be live concerts but no present audience as these concerts will be live-streamed. So you can still dance to your favorite Belizean artist in the comfort of your living room. No haad feelings, man!
September in Belize is a time for socializing, for dressing up, for making BBQ. And while the Taiwanese will be admiring the full moon and some fireworks here and there, Belizeans will also be admiring fireworks on the 20th at midnight. Even if only on TV or online through Channel 7 or Channel 5, that proud feeling and celebratory spirit will prevail.
Taiwan Celebrates Belize's Independence day online!
On Friday, September 17th, CATO alongside the Embassy of Belize in Taiwan organized an "Online Celebration of Belize's 40th Anniversary of Independence" "貝里斯獨立40週年線上慶祝會" via CATOs FB page and YouTube. Taiwan's President, Her Excellency Dr. Tsai Ing-wen, Belize's Prime Minister, Honorable John Briceno, Ambassador to Belize in Taiwan, H.E. Ambassador Dr. Candice A. Pitts, Ambassadors from different diplomatic corps, such as St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Palau, Nauru, Honduras, Nicaragua, etc., Mayors of different Taiwanese cities and businesspersons, friends of Belize wished all Belizeans a Happy 40th Independence Anniversary. Her Excellency Dr. Tsai Ing-wen thanked Belize for actively speaking out on the global stage in support of Taiwan's international participation and expressed her deep gratitude for Belize's friendship during these past 32 years.
Belizeans in Taiwan are grateful for all the support Taiwan has offered and keeps offering Belize throughout these many years of friendship. We love your country and feel blessed to also call Taiwan “Home" or "Home away from Home." God bless Taiwan and Belize!
I take the opportunity to wish all Taiwanese home and abroad a very Happy Moon Festival and to Belizeans home and abroad and in Taiwan, a Happy Independence Day!