The full moon day (15 of lunar month) is very special day for Vietnamese people. This is the day for people to go to pagoda to worship to Buddha or dedicate to our ancestors by offering flowers, fruit and burning the incense stick on the altar of the family. But for me, there are two very special full moon day in the year next to each other and both are very humane.
The first one if in the 15th of July in Lunar Calendar. This is very special day that the whole country dedicates to the wandering soul. What is wandering soul? This is very special and unique superstition of Vietnamese people that we believe in the life in another world. So when the people died, we worship to them in the altar of the family. We just need to call their name, and we remember the date and the place they passed away, we can invite them back to the family to worship to them in all the special occasions like full moon or no moon day, Tet holiday or specially their dead day.
But if the people died and we did not know the place and date when they died, we can not call them back to our family, and they turned to be the wandering soul that never could find the way back to their home. In Vietnam, after the wars, we have many soldiers died in this situation, and this day can be very special day to dedicate to them.
The second day is in the middle of Autumn (15th August) – when the moon is most beautiful in the whole year. The country used this day as the biggest festival in the year for children. As in the whole year, parents were working so hard in their job that they left the children playing by themselves. To make up for lost time, parents would use the Mid-Autumn festival as an opportunity to show their love and appreciation for their children. Mid Autumn Festival was one the biggest impression from my childhood.
In the 80 decade in last century, when Vietnam was in the subsidize system, the children did not have much chances to have candy or Ice-cream. I still remember that every time I have one 10 mark from school, my father gave me one local candy name “ Hoa Hong (mean Roses)”. It would be the worse candy in the world if you have it now, hard like stone and just have a sweet taste to know that is candy. But at that time, it was my very big happiness, and I always keep it for few days before deciding to take it. And I just can have ice cream only 2 or 3 times in a year. So for us, at that time, Mid Autumn Festival and Tet Holiday are really very big and special occasions that make us looking forward to in the whole year. In this occasion, even our television also having the special and exclusive program for the children (at that time, there was only on channel for our television from 7 to 10 PM).
So how the mid autumn festival happened at that time like? As it was very deep and impressive memory, so I still remember every single detail. We – the children were preparing for the festival about a month ahead. The festival is in the autumn, it is also the season of Grape Fruit. So after eating the fruit, we always collected the seed of the fruit, took out the cover of the seed and put them in the small steel wire. It took few days for this seed to dry and we will save it for the festival. In the festival, we can burn this seed as it burning very well with the old still existing in the seed and carried this in our procession. At that time, electricity or touch were something very rare and normally, we just can have power in few hours at night only. But for the grape fruit seed, every kid can do it.
The next step, we all waiting for some presents from our parents for the festival. The most popular one is the Star Lantern. The frame is made from bamboo. The center is made of a multi-colored plastic material. A candle holder is located in the center so that children can put a candle inside the lantern and light it in the dark night. Most of us had this lantern as the present from our parents.
But the biggest impression of the lantern to me must be Den Keo Quan. This was very authentic and smart traditional lantern in Vietnam . The cover is in square shape play the function as the screen. Inside this square shape install the round one. Inside the center is a vertical construction, the first two ending in two sharp needles made from bamboo as big as the little finger. On top of the lantern cover by the propeller made from paper, that could roll around when the air inside heated by the candle. Attached to this propeller is 1 to 5 layer of the round and clear layers, that have many interesting figures cut from paper, that could create beautiful shadow on that 4 screens in the square shape. And the propeller rolling around also made the shadow of this figures moving around these 4 screens like the movie or shadow puppet. At that time, television is something extremely rare and luxury, so the Den Keo Quan was amazing toy not only for the children but also for the adults.
The second thing but also very important thing that without it, there will not be the mid autumn festival. There are two kind of cake always go together with the name Moon cake in English or Banh Nuong and Banh Deo in Vietnamese. At that time, there is only one way to make moon cake. Banh nuong is the baked one, outside had been covered by flour, inside is beautiful mixture of local sausage, pumpkin seed, green mallow soaked in sugar, meat, little of alcohol and specially the thin slices lime leave. Banh nuong will contain 3 part is the inside and 1 part is flour outside, but Banh Deo is in opposite way. The covers of Banh Deo made from sticky rice flour and contain the charming flavor from grape fruit flower in this. Banh Nuong is in square shape represent for earth and Banh Deo is in round shape stand for sky. At that time, only Mid Autumn Festival is the chance we can have Moon Cake. And we all are waiting for year for this.
Now the modern Moon Cake was made from many different and new things inside. Someone even put the shark fin, bird nest or abalone in the Moon Cake to make it to be luxury and expensive, but for me, the best moon cake still the original selling in Hanoi Old Quarter.
The third thing also very interesting and very fun for the festival is the mask or lion head made from papper, that were very important for the procession. Normaly, we need to have one lion head for leading the procession, and the rest of the us can wear the mask with all funny shape like buffalo, horse, monkey or monster.
When we have the Star Lantern, Moon Cake and the mask and lion head, we can celebrate the Mid Autumn Festival. The children in the same living quarter just gather together for the big time in the year. We have big table where our parents putting Moon Cake and different fruit in the season. The most popular one are grape fruit and persimmon. The children stand in the line and start the celebration by the long and exiting procession, with all out Star Lantern light up by the candle. There was always some lantern caught on fire from candle in the procession, surely some kid will cry as their lantern had the bad luck, but it was always fun. We sang and shout out loud in the procession. Our parent stood there watching it in the great happiness.
After the procession, we all jump to the food and eat as much and as fast as we can. As we were waiting for all year long for this and the faster got it more, so we always trying our best for having the food as fast and as much as we can. That is the reason why Vietnamese have very beautiful word for this action: Pha Co, that mean destroy the party. After destroying the party in amazing short time, we sang a song again and watching special program for us in television. The festival never ended before 10 PM.
More than 30 years pass by from this time, and the Mid Autumn Festival today also change allots. The Star Lantern still selling in the occasion, and the Moon Cake now have hundred of different kind. But the children now did not have to wait for all year long for this as our living standard is much better now. Our children can have sweet, chocolate or Ice Cream anytime they like. Many living quarters do not organize this Festival for children anymore, and it will be the matter in individual family, that mean much less fun. The television still has the special program for children and now all of them can watch it from their television. And the saddest thing is for many parents, they forgot their children and the Mid Autumn festival is the big chance for them to bribe their boss (with shark fin moon cake and thick envelope).
Tomorrow I will go to Old Quarter of Hanoi to buy the traditional Moon Cake to bribe my parents. But now, I would like to share with you the photos taken in Hang Ma Street today – the place where they sell all toys and Lantern for the Festival in Hanoi. Enjoys.
The masks selling on Hang Ma street.
The Star Lantern selling on the street. After many year, the lantern still keep unchanged.
The Lady selling the drum and lion head, very important thing for the procession in the festival.
The big Star Lantern with the picture of Uncle Ho.
The shop for selling Mid Autumn festival decoration.
The old lady selling little drum on the street.
Busy in selling and buying.
This woman walking around for selling Star Lantern
This is a great chance for the teenage for having the impressive photos
Mother and son in viking style
The Rabbit Lantern
Mickey girl on the street
Buying the Lantern for grand children
The little boy very enjoy his new toy
Very busy and crowded on the street
And for teenage now, it seems to be like the Halloween day