When the boiling heat of summer dies down, the season of Mid-Autumn Festival or Children Festival naturally comes. Other than an event to appreciate the beautiful full moon, Mid-Autumn Festival has a more important meaning not only to Vietnamese people but to many other Asian countries. The festival is an opportunity for friends and families to gather, give thanks and pray for a better future.
THE STORIES OF MID-AUTUMN FESTIVAL
Until now, it’s not clear that the practice of Full Moon Celebration has its origin in the local agricultural roots or the ancient worship of Moon from China. There have been several folktales related to Mid-Autumn Festival: the story of Chang’e (Hang Nga), the legend of Cuoi and the tale of a carp who wanted to become a dragon.
The legend of Cuoi was the most popular story and it reflected greatly how the Vietnamese people had dedicated the festival to the children. Cuoi’s wife accidentally urinated on the sacred banyan tree. Magically, the tree began to float from the ground and fly towards the moon. Cuoi while trying to pull the tree back, was taken to the moon with it and never came back home. During the Mid-Autumn Festival each year, children light bright, colorful lanterns and went out to the roads to show Cuoi the way back to earth.
Unlike other countries like China, Korea and Japan where people emphasized 15th day of the 8th month of Lunar Calendar as a harvest festival; in Vietnam, over time Mid-Autumn Festival has come to be known as Children’s Festival. Children were always viewed as purest, closest to the natural world.
In the ancient times, the day the fullest moon occurs is to celebrate the fertility, bountiful harvests and increase in livestock and human babies. As time went by the festival has become the most important celebration of children in Vietnam, an event that sets its center on the children from concept, music, activities, foods, decoration, and gift-giving.
To the adults, Mid-Autumn Festival has a broader meaning which comes closer to the festival’s first purposes:
- Gathering/Reuniting: when the moon is brightest and fullest, it’s the time for friends and families to come together after harvests (nowadays, in the city, friends gathering to hang out or family members reuniting after being separated due to working conditions). This meaning has the most important significance.
- Thanksgiving: giving gratitude to the gods, nature for the harvest, life’s growth
- Praying: to ask for blesses such as good fortune, babies, longevity …
The preparation of Full Moon Festival in Vietnam starts averagely a month in advance. When the stalls are put up on the big streets’ sidewalks to sell all kinds of mooncake, it’s the first reminder of the festival. City dwellers try to arrange their schedules to go back home or visit their parents. Kids talk about new clothes, toys and lanterns weeks before the day. Streets turn even more colorful than they do during Tet. Organizations make trips to remote areas to give the kids there a fulfilling Mid-Autumn day…. It’s a warm and cozy atmosphere when Vietnamese people turn back to treasure their core values – family bond and deep empathy for others.
HOW VIETNAMESE PEOPLE CELEBRATE THE FULL MOON
There will be a lot going on the 14th and especially 15th nights. Everything is abundant from the roistering drum noise on the streets to the foods each family prepares for the gathering under the moonlight.
Lanterns – lantern parade, floating lanterns
Mid-autumn is a festival of lanterns of all shapes and sizes – brightly lit lanterns on the streets, lanterns carried by the children, lanterns floating on the rivers….
Lanterns were a symbol of fertility, nowadays function mainly as toys and decoration. It has been a tradition to have a parade of children carrying lanterns under the full moon. Nowadays, children are marching on the streets with their parents.
Lanterns and masks were prepared by the parents for their kids days before the festival. Which helps to hype them up so much for the event. It would be considered such a disappointment for the kids if they fail to receive those.
Feast – Mooncake and other foods
In each Vietnamese family, under the moonlight, all members will gather around a feast to celebrate the full moon. All the seasonal foods like grapefruit and other autumn fruits (gold apple, persimmon, sugar apple), mooncake, snow skin mooncake, carp-shaped cakes, green rice. One fruit that can’t be missed is grapefruits whose vesicles are shaped into a small dog. The family and mainly the kids will participate in the feast, adults often eat mooncake while drinking tea.
Moon Cake is the symbol of the Mid-autumn festival. Vietnamese people buy mooncakes to eat and to give to others as gifts. Businesses also use mooncakes to thank their partners during this time of year. Mooncakes can be kept for months which makes them fit perfectly to be gifts for many reasons.
Originally, the cake mimics the shape of the moon at its fullest, also symbolize completeness and reunion. In modern time, moon cake can be made into animal shapes like carps or pigs. Vietnamese people consider eating mooncake as a way of celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival. Besides the original mooncake, Vietnam has another kind of mooncake which is just as popular – snow skin mooncake. The original mooncake has a golden baked crust while the snow skin cake is all white. Fillings for both of the cakes can be the same with egg, jam, dried sausage, lotus seed, watermelon seed, etc.
Street performance – lion dance
Dragon and lion dances are performed before, during and after the festival, most joyous in the days of 15th and 16th. This type of performance is very popular among Asian countries, used in important events like openings, New Year, festivals….
Moon watching on the festival’s night relates to the legend of Cuoi. The ideas of the folktale started with the shapes of the moon’s craters which, to Vietnamese people, looked like a huge banyan tree. Moon observation played an important part in predicting the seasons and the future of a nation.
THINGS TO DO DURING VIETNAMESE MID-AUTUMN FESTIVAL 2018
Mid-autumn festival follows the lunar calendar which is very common in Asian countries. It also means the festival’s day changes every year on the Georgian calendar, often falls in late September or early October. In 2018, the festival occurs on 24th September. Travelers to Vietnam this time can consider themselves as lucky because the festive, joyous atmosphere can be felt everywhere.
Visit the ancient town of Hoi An
There is no better place to enjoy the atmosphere of Mid-autumn in Vietnam than Hoi An where people turn off the electric lights on the days of full moon. Every year, Hoi An enchants travelers from all around the world with the beautiful lanterns hanging on the ancient streets. Activities of Mid-autumn festival will be held from 20th to 24th September this year (11th – 15th Lunar Calendar).
Stroll the street of Hang Ma
If you visit Hanoi during Mid-autumn festival, take a walk to Hang Ma street to enjoy the atmosphere. This street is the place parents take their kids to buy lanterns, decorations, drums, masks, and toys; young locals come to take pictures with their best clothes. However, please notice that taking pictures in front of the stores without buying anything would hinder their business.
Taste the many kinds of mooncake
Not just in Vietnam, moon cake around the world has evolved in both appearance and fillings. If you’ve never tried mooncake before, this year’s Mid-autumn festival would be a wonderful chance to try.
Snow Skin mooncake surprisingly has more fans in Vietnam than the original mooncake
You can find ice cream mooncake in the big ice cream stores during the festival.
Jelly mooncake is such a unique twist for food lovers and a wonderful alternative for the kids
Enjoy lion dance with your kids
As tumultuous, fun and exciting as it should be, a performance of unicorn dance on a street of Vietnam during Mid-autumn festival is a wonderful thing to show your kids (or yourself). Walk on every main street of any major city in Vietnam, you’ll easily find a crowd enjoying the dance.
Hanoi City Tour
Mid-Autumn Festival is the perfect opportunity to tour around the historically rich capital of Vietnam. It’s a chance to enjoy both the city and festive atmosphere of the mid-autumn day. We will come to Hanoi Old Quarter, especially Hang Ma street to see how the people busily prepare for the night of full moon. Visit Mr. Hoa’s house on Hang Than street to know more about the traditional handicraft of making paper masks. Do not miss the chance to taste the sweet, delicious Vietnamese mooncakes.
Click here to see more details of our tour.
Vietnamese Mid-Autumn Festival shares the traditional meanings and significance with many other Mid-Autumn festivals of other countries like South Korean Chuseok Holiday and Japanese Tsukimi. Yet, at the same time, Mid-autumn festival in Vietnam is so different and one-of-a-kind, the only full moon festival where children are the main purpose of the celebration. Traveling to Vietnam this time is a great opportunity to understand the country’s culture and enjoy the festive atmosphere.