Every year, on the 15th day of the 8th month in lunar calendar, the children throughout the country in Vietnam are given permission by their parents to march in a procession and carry their lanterns, to eat the Mid-Autumn Festival cakes and to perform the dragon (unicorn) dance, oh, how great and uproarious they are!
This Festival is called “Mid-Autumn Festival” – or also called Children’s Festival. Do you know why we have this special festival?
Actually, this tradition of celebrating the Mid-autumn Festival began since the Duong Minh Hoang era in China, at the beginning of the 8th century (713-755).
According to ancient manuscripts, on the eve of the 15th day in the 8th month, while the Emperor Duong and his mandarins gazed at the moon, the Emperor wished that if only he could visit the Palace on the Moon. A magician named Dieu Phap Thien (also known as La Cong Vien) offered to take the Emperor to the moon by performing a number of magic tricks.
Upon arriving at the Moon Palace, the Emperor Minh Hoang was welcomed by a Fairy God who prepared a banquet and entertained the Emperor Duong. There were hundreds of beautiful fairies wearing the thin silk gaudy clothes, each of them held a long white silk piece in hand, threw it into the air, danced, and sang in the court, this dance and song is called the Nghe Thuong Vu Y (Nghe Thuong Cloth Dance).
The Emperor enjoyed this dance very much. Since the Emperor had an aptitude for music, he showed a keen interest and admiration for the dance, while at the same time trying to memorize the fairy song and dance by heart. The Emperor wanted to bring this song and dance back to the Imperial Palace for entertainment.
At the end of that year, a Governor ruling over the Tay Luong Country brought with him a group of female dancers who performed the Ba-la-mon dance.
The Emperor discovered that this Ba-la-mon dancing style shared a lot of similarities to Nghe Thuong Vu Y dance and song. He combined the two songs and dances styles into one, and called it the Nghe Thuong Dance and Cloth Style.
Later, the mandarins adopted the Nghe Thuong Dance and Cloth style from their Emperor, took this song and dance style and gradually introduced it to everyone in their far ruling countries. The tradition of gazing at the moon, and watching the dance and song later became a traditional event on eve of the Mid-Autumn celebration.
The Mid-Autumn Festival spread throughout the neighboring countries and vassal kingdoms of China. The Vietnamese Annals did not reveal from what precise time the Mid-Autumn Festival tradition was introduced in the country. They only know that, for centuries, their ancestors have followed this tradition.
Starting from the beginning of August in lunar calendar, the markets are filling of nuances of Mid-Autumn Festival. Lanterns, moon cakes, white coconut cakes are sold everywhere in the splendidly lighted shops. The streets are full of people buying and those who wander at leisure all crowding and pushing one another in these festival-like days.
Besides the assorted paper lanterns, cakes, candies, there are toy animals made of rice dough, the dragon (unicorn) heads and faces of the Earth God made of paper are displayed everywhere in the markets. In the rich families, the mid-autumn banquet is made in order to show up their nubile girls’ cooking abilities.
On the precisely 15th day of August, in the great cities, such as Hanoi, Hue, Saigon, there are the lion, dragon (unicorn) dances. This is a truly animated sight.
At the time when Vietnam was still under the French domination, the protectorate government did not want people gathering in crowds for fear of a revolt. The French government did not allow adults to organize the dragon and lion dances during the Mid-Autumn Festival, only children were allowed to participate. Since then, the Mid-Autumn Festival became the Children’s Festival.
However, the adults meet their friends in small groups, sing songs, and recite poetry.
In many Western countries where the Vietnamese refugee children are living, there is a special festival day for children called Halloween. On this day, the children dress themselves up as sorcerers, supermen, monsters; they swarm in many bands, and scare people while asking for candies. What a fun sight!
However, Halloween seems very similar to the Vu-Lan day in Vietnam. According to ancient’s superstition, on the Vu Lan day, the spirits are released from Hell to the Land of the Living in order to have a good time. So, every family prepares to feast offering to the spirits. The offerings are then distributed to children and the poor people.
Living far away from our country, does any of you, children, at any time wish to come back one day to our freedom country, so that you can carry the lanterns while making a procession, eating cake and receiving gifts of celebration during the Mid-Autumn Festival together with the children who are still in our country?
We hope that this day will come very soon.