Tet Trung Thu or Mid Autumn Festival or Moon Festival is a significant festival among the many festivals in Vietnam. It is a harvest festival and also a festival for children. 15th day of the 8th lunar month is celebrated as the Moon festival. Worshipping the god of Earth for bountiful harvest and increase in livestock are part of the rituals connected to this festival. In olden days parents were too busy with rice harvesting and other chores that they could hardly spend any time with their children. Soon after the harvest they would dedicate a day for their children, playing with them, buying them goodies and toys, telling them stories and so on. Parents prepare moon cakes, and families have meals together listening to stories. Children enjoy colourful lion dances on the streets, walk around with beautifully crafted paper lanterns. The benevolent Harvest Moon smiles as the air is filled with mirth and gaiety.
Anh Trung Thu (Mid Autumn cakes) or Moon cakes are an integral part of the Moon Festival, everyone gifts moon cakes to friends and families. We too got our share in beautiful packages.
Lotus seed paste and orange peel flavour
Apart from the traditional moon cakes made of a sweet crust and salty egg yolk with bean paste or shark fin filling in the centre, varieties of exotic flavours are available these days. Salted lime and caramel, tiramisu and coffee, lotus seed and orange paste, pumpkin seeds and pork meat floss, mangosteen, durian, green tea paste and macadamia nuts are a few other innovative flavours among the list.
Children carry paper lanterns of different shapes. Carp shaped paper lanterns are common and have a story behind. There once lived an evil spirit of a carp that used to kill humans during Mid Autumn festival. In order to scare the spirit away people carried carp shaped lanterns at night. The spirit was terrified and people were never troubled afterwards. Carrying carp shaped lanterns is an important custom during the moon festival.
Tables are set in front of houses with food, moon cakes, fruits and many other goodies to offer the moon. Families gather and enjoy the meals together. Drum beats and laughter is in the air. Children happily walk around carrying lanterns.
Glimpse of a lantern hurrying to take part in the festivities
Starry starry nights…star shaped lanterns too are very popular
The male dancer wearing the round happy-faced mask representing the Moon
The other day the moon came in my dreams; a big bright moon that had the shadows of a man and a tree. I was standing at the riverside gazing at the big moon, spellbound, thinking how could I miss those shadows all these years! The dream was so real and lingered on for a while. I have always tried to look for the shadows of a rabbit or a deer on the moon from the songs and poems I have heard. This fascinating dream was a result of reading Vietnamese folk tales on the moon and the man in the moon.
In Vietnam there are many a folklore associated with the Man in the Moon. A popular story is about man called Chu Cuoi, a buffalo boy. Once he accidentally killed a tiger cub and hid himself from the wrath of its mother. Then he witnessed this strange sight of the mother tiger bringing back her cub to life using the leaves of a banyan tree. Cuoi took the magical tree home. He cured many incurable diseases and even brought back the dead to life using the leaves of the banyan tree. When his wife ill treated the sacred tree the angry tree flew to the sky. A desperate Chu Cuoi tried to stop the tree by pulling it, but he too was carried to the moon and now the tree and Chu Cuoi live in the moon.
Chu Cuoi and the banyan tree~ an artist’s imagination
Usually September full moon is called the Harvest Moon, the full moon that rises closest to the Autumnal equinox. In Kerala Onam the harvest festival is celebrated around this time when the nights are lit up with milky moon light called ‘Chinga nilaavu’. This year the September full moon appeared early where as the October full moon came closer to the Autumnal equinox date, hence it is given the the Harvest moon title. This is the second October Harvest moon in ten years and the next one is in 2020 as per National Geographic reports . In north India October full moon is called Sharad poornima that marks the end of monsoon.
Harvest moon is unusually big and bright as the moon comes closest to the earth. In the past the bright moonlight was a blessing to the farmers who were busy with the harvest season. Even after sunset, farmers could work late in the night and they prepare their bushels ready to be filled by the full moon day. Thus they called the full moon the harvest moon. It was a time to rejoice with family after days of hard work.
Can you see Chu Cuoi, sitting under the banyan tree, playing the flute and gazing down at the Earth?
I ventured on moon gazing on full moon day. Though I could not capture the bright orange rising moon as the sky was overcast, I could click a pale orange moon against a hazy sky before dark clouds swallowed him.
The most mesmerizing fact I learnt about the harvest moon is that the moon rises much before sunset and sets after sunrise. It was a spectacular sight to gaze at the orange hued moon on the blue morning sky!
(a click from last year)
The moon was reluctant to leave, he lingered on the sky to greet the sun.
Moon tales never end.. Moon obsessed people go over the moon every time there is a bright moon in the sky!