On Moon Festival I walked around my neighborhood enjoying the evening and taking in the festivities. Mostly there were large extended family groups barbecuing on the street. I’ve never gotten used to seeing people sitting on cardboard in the street—jammed between cars—merrily drinking, shouting, and cooking, while the children run amok and the bounty of grilled meats drives the street dogs crazy. [There are no militant vegans out and about during Moon Festival—you can leave your gun at home]. Despite being a picnic in the gutter, I can attest these affairs are fun and full of 熱鬧. [See: Why Are the Taiwanese So Angry?]
When I first moved to Taiwan many Taiwanese told me that the family barbecue was a Moon Festival tradition. I naturally assumed it was some ancient Chinese shit. Nope. It’s the result of brilliant TV advertisements from rival soy sauce companies, 萬家香 and 金蘭. They promoted barbecuing as part of Moon Festival to push their barbecue sauce. I find this 1989 金蘭 commercial the most memorable from The Great Soy Sauce Wars. The period’s iconic catch phrase came from the other company (萬家香): 一家烤肉萬家香. (One house barbecues, the neighborhood enjoys the aroma).
I realized the family barbecue custom might be manufactured when a Taiwanese emigrant of my acquaintance visited Taiwan and was baffled by it. “What tradition? I’ve never heard of this in my life.” He actually was pretty exercised on the topic, carrying on about the deification of fads in Taiwan. At that time the practice was only maybe a decade old. The real Moon Festival convention was to sit outside, preferably away from urban centers, and gaze up at the full moon as a family—it has become collectively gazing down upon browning meat. In a testament to advertising, these companies managed to impose their will on a millennia old practice and intimately associate their products with Taiwan’s Moon Festival. Impressive.