Tet Trung Thu (Mid-Autumn moon festival) in Vietnam has been one of the most important festivals in the country for many years.
The autumn festival in Vietnam always falls on the first full moon of the eight month in the lunar calendar. The festival is said to have originated from farming parents trying to make up for lost time with their children after a long harvest.
In the capital city, activities are centered on Hang Ma street where punters flock to pick up toys, fruit and mooncakes. All of which are Trung Thu essentials, making the festival, from a foreign perspective, seem a bit like Halloween and Thanksgiving rolled into one.
For children, toys are always first on the list. Traditional toys would be masks, dragon heads, or den cu (candle lit flower lanterns). In more impecunious times, children usually made toys at home. Children might, for example, take a grapefruit’s nuts, peel its cover, dry and string them. The strings would be burnt at night, making a glowing, fragrant torch.
Now, with rising living standards thanks to a burgeoning economy, more and more modern or expensive toys from China are taking over. In the past, the most popular toy was made by paper and represented the face of ong dia (earth god). Nowadays, you might find masks of ghosts or fairies, but you’re also just as likely to see masks of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Fruit of the loom
Fruit is always a part of any Vietnamese festival. Every family should display at least five kinds of fruit. Most popular are grapefruit, persimmon and watermelon. In many families, white and pink grapefruit laid out to be in the shape of a dog will be displayed in the centre of the tray.
There are even contests on the display of fruit trays. The prize may be very simple but it is a symbolic one, meaning the female in that family is a good catch!
In the past, mooncake could not be absent during Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Each family would have at least two mooncakes to offer ancestors. Now, it’s a symbolic gift people buy for each other. And although still popular, the cakes are definitely getting fancier.
Domestic traditional bakers, such as Kinh Do, Dong Khanh and Huu Nghi are offering a wide range of mooncakes and even Five-Star hotels are selling mooncakes at prices triple the domestic norm. The festival is another occasion when people try to present cakes and gift packs to people such as senior officials, children’s teachers or bosses.
Last year, when one hotel in Ho Chi Minh City announced they had produced 100 luxury boxes of the special cake, people rushed in to grab one of the boxes which sold like, well, hot cakes!
Celebrating in style
Making noise is often part of the fun and children especially enjoy the dragon dance. In the past, when children danced through streets, at the front door of each family home, people would hang strings of coins out and each passing dragon troupe would be presented with some coins. The coin is of little value but is considered lucky for children. Nowadays this custom has passed away.
Although the festival used to be just for children, nowadays teenagers or young people also enjoy the night, hanging out in public areas or driving around on motorbikes. Many have taken to the grass patches on the new road by My Dinh Stadium, lolling about on mats, with drinks, fruit and mooncakes.
The streets are usually jam-packed after 8pm, so take heed and remember, the early bird gets the best spot!
Vietnam Investment Review - (05/09/2005)