Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mid-Autumn Festival

(c) AngelsWings. Source: Flickr.
The Mid Autumn Festival is a very important family holiday in the Vietnamese and Chinese calendar. It is also known as the Moon Festival and is celebrated all around South-East Asia.

This harvest festival dates back more than 3000 years. It occurs on the 15th day of the 8th month in the Chinese calendar, which is in September or early October in the Gregorian calendar. This holiday will be celebrated on the following days:

2011: September 12 / 2012: September 30 / 2013: September 19 / 2014: September 8 / 2015: September 27 / 2016: September 15 / 2017: October 4 / 2018: September 24 / 2019: September 13 / 2020: October 1

In Malaysia, Singapore and Philippines, it is also called Lantern Festival or Mooncake Festival, after the traditional food that is served on this day. There are many varieties of mooncake, which I described in detail here.

In Vietnam, the Mid-Autumn festival is named Tết Trung Thu (Mooncake Festival or Children’s Festival) and it is the second most important over the year. It is a very merry holiday and a wonderful time to visit Vietnam.

The legend says a man named Chu Coi found a lucky tree that had special healing powers. Because this tree was sacred, people were forbidden to urinate at the foot of this tree. Unfortunately, Chu Coi’s wife, Chi Hang forgot the rule and urinated on the tree. On day, while she was sitting on the tree’s branch, the tree started to grow and grow. Eventually, it reached the moon, and Chi Hang lived on the moon for the rest of her life as a punishment for desecrating the sacred tree. Everr since, children light lanterns and participate in a procession to show her the way back to Earth.

The whole celebration also revolves around children. Vietnamese tradition considers that parents were so busy with cropping and harvesting during the year, that they often neglected their children; the Mid-Autumn festival is the perfect opportunity for parents to show their love and care.

Children receive a lot of gifts on this occasion: toys, sweets, fruits, paper masks with their favorite characters, lion heads, scholar paper dolls (symbolizing industriousness and successful study), colourful rice flour figurines (Tò he), sky lanterns, etc. Hang Ma, Hang Luoc and Luong Van Can streets are important destinations for buying toys.

A very important element during this festival is the 5-point star-shaped lantern (đèn ông sao). It is carried by children, while admiring the bright round moon together with their families, singing dedicated songs, and eating mooncakes. It used to be hand-made. Nowadays, the frame is made of bamboo and the center of colored plastic. They operate on batteries or have a candle holder in the center so that children can put a candle inside.

Besides mooncakes and lanterns, lion dances are a very important tradition on this occasion, performed by both professional and amateur dancers. The lion dance groups perform on the streets and then go to houses asking for permission to perform for them. If accepted by the host, “the lion” will come in and start dancing as a wish of luck and fortune, while the host gives back lucky money in order to express their gratitude.

Although the moon is then at its greatest distance from the earth at this time of the year, it appears larger than at any time of the year and takes on a special reddish glow. It is said that in its partial phases, the moon represents the incompleteness of life and potential for completeness, fullness, and prosperity. Consequently, the Mid-Autumn celebration is a celebration and a prayer for a fulfilled life.

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