Tet trung thu (Mid-Autumn Festival) Vietnam
by Yen Mai
In Vietnam, Têt-Trung-Thu (tet-troong-thoo) or the Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most popular family holidays. It is held on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the two most important holidays in the Chinese calendar (the other being the Chinese Lunar New Year), and it is a legal holiday in several countries. Farmers celebrate the end of the summer harvesting season on this date.
Traditionally, on this day, Chinese family members and friends will gather to admire the bright mid-autumn harvest moon, and eat moon cakes and pomeloes together. Accompanying the celebration, there are additional cultural or regional customs.
Vietnamese families plan their activities around their children on this special day. In Vietnamese folklore, parents were working so hard to prepare for the harvest that they left the children playing by themselves. To make up for lost time, parents would use the Mid-Autumn festival as an opportunity to show their love and appreciation for their children.
Appropriately, the Mid-Autumn Festival is also called the Children’s Festival. In the United States, this tradition continues in many Vietnamese-American communities.
Trung-Thu activities are often centered on children and education. Parents buy lanterns for their children so that they can participate in a candlelit lantern procession at dawn.
Lanterns represent brightness while the procession symbolizes success in school. Vietnamese markets sell a variety of lanterns, but the most popular children’s lantern is the star lantern.
Other children’s activities include arts and crafts in which children make face masks and lanterns. Children also perform traditional Vietnamese dances for adults and participate in contests for prizes and scholarships.
Unicorn dancers are also very popular in Trung-Thu festivities.
Like the Chinese, Vietnamese parents tell their children fairy tales and serve moon-cakes and other special treats under the silvery moon.
A favorite folklore is about a carp that wanted to become a dragon. The carp worked and worked and eventually transformed itself into a dragon. This is the story behind the mythical symbol, Cá hóa Rông. Parents use this story to encourage their children to work hard so that they can become whatever they want to be.
There’s also a story about how the Moon Lady ascended to the moon. 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. One day, while she was sitting on the tree’s branch, the tree started to grow and grow. Eventually, it reached the moon, since then, Chi Hang lived on the moon for the rest of her life as a punishment for desecrating the sacred tree.
Turning off Street Lights in Hoi-An
In Hoi-an town, on the 14th of every lunar month, modernity takes another step back. On these evenings the town turns off its street lamps and fluorescent lights, leaving the Old Quarter bathed in the warm glow of colored silk, glass and paper lanterns.
In ancient times, Vietnamese people made lamps out of shallow bowls filled with oil. Later, foreign traders introduced lanterns, ranging from round and hexagonal designs from China to diamond and star shaped ones from Japan.