Autumn is probably the best time to experience Vietnam. Aside from catching the colorful rice paddies being ready for harvest, you would also have the chance to observe Vietnam’s second most important holiday, Tet Trung Thu or the Mid-autumn Festival happening every 15th day of the 8th lunar month. Having other names such as Moon Festival, Moon Cake Festival and Children Festival, this celebration falls on October 4 this year. It is Vietnam’s second most celebrated festival, next to Tet Holiday (Lunar New Year). Why is it very important to the Vietnamese, anyway, and how could it be of interest to its foreign residents and visitors? Well, to begin with, the legends are mesmerizing.

The Legend of The Mid-Autumn Festival, Vietnamese Version

Other than Vietnam, various East Asian countries also celebrate the Moon Festival such as China, Korea, Japan and Singapore. However, the legend of Mid-autumn Fetival’s origin differs in each nation.

A popular folktale of this Mid-autumn Festival is the story of a buffalo boy named Thằng Cuội who owns a magical banyan tree. He charged his wife to sprinkle it with clean water everyday while Cuội  goes to work. One day, the wife forgot to water it before her husband came home, so she hurried to urinate on it. In an instant, the tree grew taller without stopping that Cuội tried to cut it with an axe. However, he got caught with the tree which continued to grow until it reached the moon, sending Cuội up above. It is said that whenever you look at the full moon, you will see Thằng Cuội at the foot of his tree. This is why every year, children would light lanterns to guide his way back to Earth.

Thằng Cuội sitting by the root of the banyan tree on Mid-autumn festival
Thằng Cuội sitting by the root of the banyan tree on Mid-autumn festival

Adults also have different reasons explaining the celebration. Some celebrate it as a prayer to have a complete and a prosperous life. In the golden days, the Vietnamese believed that the children’s innocence and purity enable them to connect the natural world to the spiritual world, that’s why it’s a children’s celebration. Some also believe that the Mid-Autumn Festival is a way to remind the sun to come back after the winter so that their planted crops would grow.

Significance To The Modern Vietnamese

Even though the old legend is a tale for kids, Vietnamese grown-ups celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival for a number of significant reasons. In the modern days, it is an important time for kids and parents to spend time with each other. This is especially true for farmers, since parents finally get to spend time with their children after a long period of hard work in the fields. The festival is held after the busy harvest season of September. In the schools, the festival is a way to promote Vietnamese culture, especially music, poetry and crafts to young people. Some also take the chance as a time to renew friendships and lover’s vows under the moonlight. Some just take advantage to enjoy the lantern parades and sweet mooncakes!

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A Celebration Filled with Mooncakes and Lanterns

Regardless of why each local celebrate the festival, the celebration is pretty much the same throughout the country. So, what can you expect to see during the Moon Cake Festival?

Mooncakes

A Mid-Autumn Festival is not such without Bánh Trung Thu (mooncakes). It is a moon-shaped pastry with thin tender skin enveloping a sweet, creamy filling. It overflows in every stores, and some families even bake their own. It’s a default gift item during the festival. Most mooncakes will have an imprint on top that means good wishes such as longevity, harmony, etc.

Mooncakes is the absolute must on Mid-autumn Festival
Mooncakes is the absolute must on Mid-autumn Festival

Lanterns

Carp-shaped lanterns used to have dominance over other lanterns during Mid-Autumn Festival because of another legend’s tale where carp lanterns were used to eliminate carp spirits that once killed many people during the Mid-Autumn night. Nowadays, however, children light and hold different shapes of lanterns at night.

Dragon and Lion Dance

Common during Vietnamese holidays are these dances which express the duality of Vietnamese festivals, something similar to the yin yang. The dance features Ong Dia (Lord Earth) dancing around a dragon, symbolizing the Earth’s wealth and fullness.

Dragon dancing with the Lord of the Earth
Dragon dancing with the Lord of the Earth

Recommendations

It’s always good to be a part of this rich culture that prioritizes family and friendship. Prepare your stomach for a bunch of mooncakes, or better yet, buy some mooncakes that you can share to whoever you want to share it with while in Vietnam.

Some places to go on this year Mid-autumn Festival:

Fun is always better with a companion. Ask a friend to join you because this holiday is also to celebrate reunion. Maybe exploring all the destinations listed above, and try out some other places, and even have a taste of the famous moon cakes?

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