The Mid-Autumn Festival is just around the corner. Regardless of the uncertainty brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the radiant Moon continues to give us hope.
When the Moon reaches its brightest and fullest size, Vietnamese people are all excited to celebrate one of the country’s most meaningful festivals. During this time, provinces and cities witness the vibrant atmosphere, the hustle and bustle of large crowds getting downtown for the Mid-Autumn Festival.
However, because of the global pandemic and the restrictions being implemented across major cities in the country, visiting Hanoi’s Hàng Mã and Lương Văn Can for their toys and lanterns is no longer an option. It’s the same thing if you’re in Ho Chi Minh City, the trips to 109 Triệu Quang Phục and Chợ Lớn to grab some decorative items isn’t possible at least in this year’s celebration.
But just because going out is not allowed doesn’t mean Mid-Autumn festivities aren’t happening. We gathered four things regarded as symbols of this festival and how their deep-rooted meanings influence the past and present generations. And that even in the midst of the pandemic, there’s still a reason to celebrate.
This perfectly baked cake has been the “vedette” dish of the full-moon worshiping tray since the olden days. Through the years, the pastry has evolved into many flavors and shapes because of the creativity and wonderful craftsmanship of the Vietnamese.
Mooncake is a combination of sweet, salty, and savory flavors but it’s not just a food, it’s a profound cultural tradition symbolizing togetherness and harmony.
The traditional mooncake comes in a variety of fillings including lotus seed paste, sweet bean paste, the savory taste of salted yolks. These are covered by chewy crust, creating a harmonized combination till the very last bite.
Mooncakes represent the reunion of the whole family, appreciating all relationships along with the felicity of being loved and helped. On this day, all family members return home, gathering around a table eating meals and cherish the moments with their beloved ones.
Even if not all can go home and enjoy the mooncakes the traditional way, with their families, one can still enjoy the special treat thanks to the diligent shippers of multiple delivery services. Every mooncake delivered during this time is not only a wish of happiness or lucky fortune but is also words of encouragement to have optimism for a new normal, sooner or later.
Festive paper masks
Across many cultures all over the world, the mask is something that always holds a festive vibe — an indispensable item of a child’s night out for the Moon festival.
Adults usually make these toys for children to enjoy moon-watching and indulge in the festival ambiance. And these festive toys, including masks, have made a special contribution to the "rite” of worshiping the moon — worshiping sky and earth, also means praying for the prosperity of life.
The Masks differ in shapes, hues, impersonating multiple famous characters and historical figures, considering many well-meaning hidden connotations. The character reflected on the mask accommodates significant cultural messages. For instance, the mask impersonating Ông Địa represents the bountiful harvests of Vietnamese peasants and the clarity of the moonlight on a Lunar Mid-Autumn night.
Today, although many modern toys have appeared, these vivid masks still remain special in the minds of many children.
Apart from the full moon, the brightest light of the night must be the star lantern, a Vietnamese traditional toy made of bamboo sticks, transparent colored papers and jutes, with a candle inside to create light.
The Star Lantern is much more than just a decorative item, it also symbolizes the five basic elements: metal, wood, water, fire and Earth, pursuant to Eastern philosophy, representing the balance and harmony of the world.
Turning back the hands of time, when the Vietnamese were fighting brutal wartime battles, the Star lantern also contains a profound meaning. The five-pointed star is the star on the national flag of Vietnam. Lighting up the lanterns during the Mid-Autumn Festival is to light up the longing for peace, in a bright future for the next generations.
These days, candles are replaced by neon lights to increase convenience and save the children from getting burnt. But no matter what lanterns they use, the kids are always in full swing for this part of the celebration.
The images of star lanterns and parades of children getting down the street manifest that full moon rituals have firmly embedded in many Vietnamese generations.
Lion dance parades
Probably the most popular symbol known — lion dance. A striking feature of the Vietnamese lion dance is the performance of Ông Địa at the front of the parade, he is the soul of the Earth, depicted as a grinning, big-bellied man holding a leaf fan resembling the 'Buddha'.
Every year, Ông Địa leads the Lion dance to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival and bestow blessings as well as luck to everyone. Wherever the parade takes place, in the minds of Vietnamese philosophy, they drive away evil spirits and sorrows. People therefore can rejoice in the happiness and prosperity of life.
Many families choose to celebrate this meaningful festival online with their kids amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Turning on some lion dance performance video and swaying along to the melody may yield the best experiences of an indoor festival. Or maybe just a video call with other relatives on the Mid-Autumn night completes the celebration, reminding the kids how to appreciate family values and cultural traditions.