Mid-Autumn Festival in Vietnam

2 years ago 3118

Mid-Autumn Festival (“Tết Trung Thu”) is an inherited custom of moon sacrificial ceremonies. The ancient Chinese observed that the movement of the moon had a close relationship with changes of the seasons and agricultural production. Hence, to express their thanks to the moon and celebrate the harvest, they offered a sacrifice to the moon on autumn days.

Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th day on the 8th lunar month. It takes its name from the fact that it is always celebrated in the middle of the autumn season. The day is also known as the Moon Festival, as at that time of the year the moon is at its roundest and brightest.

The moon is at its roundest and brightest on the 8th full moon of the year.

Mid-Autumn Festival is also a traditional festival in some Southeast and Northeast Asian countries include Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam.

There is no document mentioned exactly when the Festival was formed in Vietnam. According to archaeologists, Mid-Autumn Festival had appeared in Vietnam very long time ago. The image of the Festival was found on Ngoc Lu Ancient Bronze (about 2500 years ago). Base on the epitaph in Doi Pagoda (1121), Mid-Autumn Festival was hold officially in Thang Long Ancient Capital from the Ly Dynasty with many interesting activities such as boat racing, water puppetry performance and lanterns parade.

In the period of Le-Trinh (1545 – 1786), a special period of Vietnam feudal era as Le Emperors didn’t really rule the country but all the power was on Trinh Lords’ hands, the celebration was described extremely luxurious. Each year, a few months ago before the Festival, people had started to prepare for the event. Thousands of sophisticated lanterns were made of good brocade which cost tens taels of gold at that time.

Custom of making and having round cakes (or moon cakes) on the Mid-Autumn Festival had formed in China about thousand years ago. In Chinese culture, a round shape symbolizes the completeness and unity. Thus, sharing pieces of round moon cakes among family members signify the completeness and unity of families.

Moon cakes are typical foods of Mid-Autumn Festival.

The traditional celebration of Mid-Autumn Festival in the old days of Vietnam was described that Vietnamese families usually prepared food to worship ancestors in day time, at night all members gathered a round table full with cakes, of course including moon cakes, candies and fruits, shared the prepared foods and enjoyed the beauty of the full-moon together. Moon cakes were in round shape to symbolize the sky and square shape to symbolize the ground. The three popular dishes in the Festival were: “Xôi cốm” (Young green sticky rice), “Chả cốm”(pork and young green sticky rice cake) and “Gỏi bưởi” (Pomelo salad). In many Vietnamese minds, Mid-Autumn Festival means as a festival of family reunion, a happy gathering occasion.   

A Hanoi's family gathered on the case of Mid-autumn Festival.

Mid-Autumn Festival is also known as the festival for children with notable parts of celebrating the holiday such as lanterns parades and lion dance performances. Some explained that the ancient Vietnamese believed that children, being innocent and pure, had the closest connection to the sacred and natural world. Being close to children was seen as a way to connect with animist spirits and deities. Some said that because the Festival usually fall in the beginning period of a new school year so there were many activities emphasized on children. Parents gifted toys, cakes and candies to their kids to show their loving and care as well as encourage them to study hard in the new school year. As the moon rising upon the trees, children with ready brightly lit lanterns paraded around the village or town and sang traditional songs of the Festival.

Kids from a rich family with gifts on hands.

Lion dance (“Múa sư tử”) performance is a favorite activity during the Festival. Differently with the north, it is called “Múa lân” (or Unicorn dance) in the south of Vietnam. The male unicorn is named of “Kỳ” and “Lân” is to referred to the female one. The Unicorn is a mythical animal, one of the four sacred animals in the Viet’s belief: Dragon, Unicorn, Turtle and Phoenix. It has body of deer, claws of horse, tail of ox, very big mouse and a horn in the middle of its forehead. The Earth Deity (“Ông Địa”) is a famous character also appears in the performance. The Deity has a big belly, always smiles which contrary to the fierce looking of the Unicorns. He, a gentle deity with a kind heart, plays a role to entice the Unicorns come to his territory which help to bring peace and wealthy for the land.

 A lion dance performance in the old time.

Today, some customs of Mid-Autumn Festival has changed and reflected the influences of the other countries’ cultures. Making moon cakes at home has given way to the more popular custom of buying mass-produced cakes with more diverse fillings as gifts to family members and friends. Handcrafted lanterns are minority comparing to the mass appearance of electric lanterns. Traditional toys are on the verge of sinking into oblivion. Many big events are still hold to celebrate the festival for children. However, to many adults, it is hard to find the real taste of the Festival in the modern life as it was before. 

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Cape Doi (Khanh Hoa Province) is the easternmost point of Vietnam mainland, where people can enjoy the first sunlight shedding in the S-shape country.