One of the most important events in the Vietnamese calendar is the Mid-Autumn Festival, known as Tet Trung Thu. This is a highlight in the Vietnamese culture that every tourist should get involved. The festival is held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Vietnamese lunisolar calendar. This means that it happens during September, or occasionally October, on the night of the full moon. This event is nowadays considered a children’s festival with a lot of Vietnamese traditional activities.
Dragons, carp and a flying tree
There are various myths and legends surrounding some of the activities that are undertaken during the Mid-Autumn Festival of Vietnam. They include:
- dragons bringing the rains to help the crops to grow;
- a carp performing tasks and being transformed into a dragon;
- a murderous carp spirit; and
- unfortunately aimed urination and a sacred flying tree.
Two of these myths are used to explain the use of lanterns in Tet Trung Thu.
The first story goes as follows:
There was once a man named Cuoi, who had in his possession a sacred banyan tree. This tree possessed healing powers, so it was very valuable.
However, one day, Cuoi’s wife accidentally urinated on the tree. The tree was, perhaps unsurprisingly, upset about this. In order to punish Cuội and his family for allowing such an offence to occur, the tree uprooted itself and began floating away. Cuoi, seeing such a treasured possession on the verge of being lost, grabbed it and attempted to weigh it down.
The tree floated higher and higher, with Cuoi still hanging onto it. The pair of them eventually floated all the way up to the moon. Each year, when the moon is at its fullest, people light lanterns to show Cuoi the way back to Earth.
The second story, which explains the shape of many of the lanterns used in the festival, goes like this:
One Mid-Autumn night, a carp spirit came among the people and killed many of those who were out in the streets going about their lives. People panicked, because they had no idea how to save themselves from such a problem.
However, a wise man suggested that the people should make carp-shaped lanterns to carry with them when they went outside. They followed his advice and the carp spirit was frightened off by the light. Therefore, people have carried carp-shaped lanterns on Mid-Autumn night ever since to make sure that the carp spirit does not return.
Lanterns, lions and love
Lanterns play a big part in the Mid-Autumn Festival of Vietnam. There are processions of light in the streets under the full moon and many lanterns are made and purchased during this time to be taken to the celebrations.
Another important part of Tet Trung Thu is the lion dances. Typically, two performers dress in a costume in which they form the two sets of the lion’s legs and the body and head part of the costume are draped over them. Both professional and amateur performers take part in processions. Some performers offer to dance in people’s homes in return for money. The dances are thought to bring good luck to the household for the year ahead.
The festival is also known as the Children’s Festival in Vietnam. It comes after the harvest, which means families that have worked hard in the fields can celebrate having some time to spend together. Children play a big part in the various parades and dances in the festival.
Much munching of mooncakes
Various snacks and lots of fruit are eaten at Mid-Autumn Festival, but the food most associated with it is the mooncake. Mooncakes are pressed into moulds that often have intricate designs carved into them. Their dough is made from flour, oil and syrup. These signature cakes of Tet Trung Thu are filled with a mixture of different ingredients, some of which are:
- various meats;
- lotus and watermelon seeds;
- mung bean paste; and
- salted egg yolk.
The old and the new
What was once a festival celebrating and praying for the fertility of the earth, has become one center on celebrating the joy that children bring and the importance of spending time together as a family. It is also a great excuse for a party and it brings plenty of tourism and interest from around the world.