By Le Ba Thinh
There are many different legends connected with this festival -that it is the birthday of the moon; that the Old Man in the Moon (the matchmaker) ties together couples with invisible red thread; and that Miss Hang and Toad Circle journey back to their home on the moon, but it is a harvest celebration throughout Southeast Asia, and a time to admire the moon when it is at its fullest and brightest for the year. Tet (Lunar New Year) is an occasion for national merry-making: fireworks, traditional foods, visits to temples and pagodas, walks by the Lake of the Restored Sword on the Eve of Tet and visits to the Flower Market (Comb Street) near the crowded Dong-Xuan market. The Mid-Autumn Festival is a children's celebration in which the adults also join. Festival of the Moon, Moon cakes.
In the eighth month comes the Festival of the Moon, answering to the Harvest Festival in Western countries. What are called "moon cake" are sold at this season. If the year has been productive there will be a great deal of rejoicing. Presents are interchanged at this time as also at other festival seasons. As the moon becomes gradually full there appears in it to the Chinese eye a man who is climbing a tree. The full moon is greeted with much ceremony, and the night on which the luminary appears its brightest is passed in feasting and rejoicing.
Moon cakes or "mid-autumn cakes" are a mixture of fruit and other sweets wrapped up in a thin crust in the shape of a full moo, about two or three inches in diameter and a half-inch thick. According to a long established custom they must be exchanged with relatives and friends on the days preceding the Autumn festival. On the night of 15th, each family lights the four lanterns, hanging two on either side of the "The kong" incense pot, in the main hall of the residence. Two of three large lanterns bear the family name usually with the inscription "may boys increase", while the other two lanterns are in commemoration of the marriage of the mother and father of the family. The banner of the eight immortal is hung over the main hall, and the whole family comes together for a banquet. To the Vietnamese the full moon signifies completeness, the entire family gathered together in happiness.
This is a delightful festival for children and most pleasant for the adults to watch. Many weeks before the festival, bakers are busy making hundreds of thousands of moon cakes of sticky rice and filled with all kinds of unusual fillings such as peanuts, sugar, lotus seed. They are baked and sold in colorful boxes. Expensive ones in ornate boxes are presented as gifts.
On the night of festival, children form a procession and go through the street holding their lighted lanterns and performing the dances of the unicorn to accompaniment of drums and cymbals.
Regarding the moon, the Chinese have a legend relating to Miss Hang Nga and the "Immortality medicine". According to a book by Alice Stralen, during the Chinese Nghiêu dynasty, there lived a marksman by the name of Hau Nghe who never missed a target with his arrows. He was sent to earth by the Emperor of Heaven to rescue people from the sufferings. At that time, there were 10 suns shining upon the earth. As a result, the earth was suffering from severe radiation and drought, and all the crops were damaged. Utilizing his sharp shooting skill, Hau Nghe was able to shoot down 9 suns, and left only the present sun that we see today. Hau Nghe had a wife, Hang Nga, who wished to live long and remain beautiful forever. She urged Hau Nghe to ascend the mountain of Côn lôn to seek the immortality medicine from the Fair Queen of the Western Regions. Hau Nghe brought home that kind of medicine; she felt her body floating on air, and she flew away to the moon where a rabbit, a toad and a cinnamon tree were the only living creatures. This story explained why sometimes the moon is also called Miss Hang, Toad Circle, Cinnamon Circle and Jade Rabbit.
The Vietnamese have adapted these special Chinese customs to fit their culture and customs. Therefore, the picture of a carp chasing away the devil has become a carp looking at the moon, or a carp jumping over a windy and rainy gate. The Mid-Autumn evening was fresh, and the whole family felt happy in the bright moonlight. The long days of summer were over and the autumn winds were beginning to blow. Finally, the crickets began to sing their quiet song, and we felt a gentle melancholy.
- Alice, Stalen. The Book of Holiday Around the World New York: E.P. Duntton, 1986
- Margaret, MacDonald. The Folklore of World Holidays. London: Gale, 1992.
- Ritu, Shalrma. Lands and and People of the World New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Private Limited, 1988.