Hoi An is a town known for its festivals, and on Wednesday, October 4, visitors can experience one of the largest and most important festivals of the year.
The Mid-Autumn festival, or Tet Trung Thu, takes place on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month every year.
Corresponding roughly with the arrival of fall, the autumn festival (also known as the children’s festival) commemorates the final rice harvest of the year. It is a time for families to meet and enjoy each other’s company, spend time with wee ones, chase away bad spirits, and celebrate the moon.
Originally a Chinese festival, it has been celebrated in Vietnam for thousands of years. In many ways, it is a larger representation of the monthly lunar festival.
Children are at the center of the celebrations. In ancient times, it was believed that children held the closest connection to the sacred and natural world, being innocent and pure.
Pint-sized costumed dragon dancers go from shop to shop to ask to perform, and if successful, be rewarded with a bit of lucky money. Drums announce their arrival, and their presence is thought to bring good luck and fortune. The fierce, handmade dragon’s head and body is controlled by the children.
The children are accompanied by ‘Lord Earth’ or Ong Dia, who wears a moon-shaped, smiling mask, and represents prosperity and wealth.
Other groups of children parade around the town, wearing masks and holding paper lanterns shaped like stars, moons and animals.
You can also see less cute but more professional dragon dancers top huge bamboo poles and spit fire at the more crowded places in the old town, competing to be the best.
All of this merriment is made more brilliant by the elegant old houses and colourful lanterns, including the small paper ones which float down the river in a stream of glowing light.
Connection with the moon
Another important part of the festival is the worship of the moon, a symbol of rebirth and harmony. The Mid-Autumn festival is also a time of fertility, and it used to be popular to start courtships or celebrate weddings at this time of year.
The festival is a time to drink, eat, and be merry, and residents present each other with ‘moon cakes’. These treats are made of a mung bean or lotus seed paste, sometimes with an egg yolk hidden in the middle, and come in salty and sweet versions. Banh deo is a white cake, made from sticky rice and filled with a sugary mixture of lotus seeds, green beans, or pumpkin seeds. Banh nuong is a brown savoury cake, and consists of egg, pork fat, fried onion, peanut, and lemon leaves.
If you are lucky enough to visit Hoi An at this time of year, make sure to take part in the special celebration and honour family, children, and the moon.