Taiwan was plunged into chaos last week - but not by the national pastime of political demonstrations. Rather, it was an unexpected five-day holiday: the government suddenly extended the Mid-Autumn Festival to include Friday and Tuesday. With no time to make new plans, most Taipei residents celebrated this ancient harvest festival as usual - with the modern rituals of barbecuing and going for road trips. Every year at this time, disgruntled cultural conservatives write in to major daily newspapers complaining that the festival's true spirit has been replaced by mindless consumption. No longer do multi-generational families gather in the courtyards of traditional houses to make offerings to ancestors and eat a family meal bathed in moonlight. Gone are quaint - but often idealised - customs like sharing mooncakes or hunting for grasshoppers. They've been replaced with a nationwide party on city streets and country roads. Massive quantities of meat and seafood are grilled, then washed down with prodigious quantities of the island's beloved Taiwan Beer or Hey Song sarsaparilla. To get an idea of the scale of this party, consider the case of the mainland fishing trawler interdicted by Taiwan's coastguard just days before the Mid-Autumn Festival two years ago. In the hold were 3 tonnes of smuggled chicken tail bones - a fatty delicacy for meat skewers. A Tainan-based wholesaler at a traditional market explained that this supply would meet the holiday demand in southern Taiwan for barely one day. Normally, it would be enough for two weeks. This year, Taipei officially opened its new riverside parks on Friday evening to city residents for barbecuing. Unfortunately, the smoke from thousands of fires in the parks and throughout the city sent so much particulate matter into the air that health warnings were issued for the elderly and those with respiratory problems. Then Saturday morning dawned. Satiated - and in many cases hungover - Taipei dads packed their families and friends into their shiny new sports utility vehicles and took to the road. The past 10 years of road building have given Taiwan an impressive network of freeways and expressways. Even so, they were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of vehicles. In the north, traffic jams stretched for 20km as travellers tried to use the new 12.9km Hsuehshan Tunnel. In the far south, 100,000 visitors turned the tropical resort of Kenting into a massive parking lot late on Saturday afternoon. Even so, most people seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly. Taiwanese have found new ways to celebrate this most traditional of holidays. But their love for the buzzing excitement of the crowd - while surrounded by an inner circle of family and friends - remains entirely undiminished.