The moon has a strange draw over the earth. It moves the tides of the sea. It changes sleep patterns. It even affects when babies are born. All true apparently…
Given it has such power (oh, and it looks kind of pretty up there in the sky) it is hardly surprising that the moon is revered across the world.
In Vietnam you can experience fantastic lunar festivals first hand – a fairly amazing way to spend an evening after a good day’s work teaching English, we reckon.
Hoi An Full Moon Festival
If you like the thrill of an old city lit only by lanterns, the buzz of an excited crowd and lots and lots of colour then Hoi An’s Full Moon Festival is perfect for you.
On the 14th day of the lunar month, the electric lights are switched off, the cars banished and the moon is celebrated.
In Hoi An, the traditional full-moon activities of candlelit ceremonies at temples and offerings for ancestors have merged into a blazing spectacle of lantern illuminations.
Whilst glowing offerings drift down the river, the sound of bamboo flutes and drums float through the air, street performance waits to be discovered around almost every corner and, slightly incongruously, the locals sit and play chess.
If all this makes you feel a bit peckish, then simply turn to one of the numerous street stalls and pick yourself up a tasty snack.
Tet Trung Thu Festival
Vietnam’s top lunar celebration in the second half of the year is Tet Trung Thu – the mid-autumn moon festival. This is held on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month (usually around September / October, if you are not up on your lunar calendar).
There is a real focus on children at Tet Trung Thu. Indeed one of the many stories about the festival’s origins is that it was an opportunity for parents to spend time with their family after the long days of harvesting. This does not mean it is just a kids’ festival however – Tet Trung Thu is definitely great fun for adults too.
Festival lanterns (again!)
What do you reckon? Is it possible to have a moon festival without lanterns? Do not be absurd. Of course lanterns are a part of Te Trung Thu.
You will hear numerous tales about why the lanterns are included in the celebrations. One of our favourites is that a wise man created the first carp-shaped lantern with a stick through it to scare away an evil spirit.
These days the lanterns come in pretty much every size and shape and are simply a means of celebrating. You cannot fail to smile as the colours and lights of dragons, boats and frogs (representing the moon, of course!) dance their way down the street.
Try out some Banh Trung Thu
Have you ever fancied eating a piece of the moon? To be honest, neither have we. But a mooncake sounds rather tastier anyway.
During the festival, families sit outside and eat mooncake (Banh Trung Thu) whilst contemplating the moon. Well, ok, they might contemplate the moon as long as the festivities going on all around do not distract them too much.
If you fancy a bit of symbolism, look out for the shape and colour of the mooncakes – brown cakes represent the yang of the sun and white cakes symbolise the moon. Then again, you could simply enjoy the taste.
Just in case you need a bit more of a spectacle, listen out for the sound of beating drums and crashing cymbals. This is likely to be the local children (of all ages) taking part in the traditional Chinese lion dance.
This dance is thought to bring good luck to those who watch. It certainly can be lucky for the children, who are often rewarded with gifts or money. Or is that the power of the moon at work again?
One thing is for sure – lunar festivals are thrilling. Just do not blame the full moon for any craziness you feel. Apparently that one is all down to you!