Full moon or Mid-Autumn festival (Tết Trung Thu) is one of my favorite events in Vietnam. I bet everyone, especially children are super excited about the celebration now: the colorful lanterns with all kinds of shapes, animated masks, children games and typical melodies only played for this occasion. As two close neighbors with many cultural similarities, people might have such wrong perception that the way Vietnam and China celebrate Full moon festival is identical. However, the full moon festival constitutes many distinctive features that brings this day become one of the most special days in Vietnam. Therefore, in this article, I will tell you some main differences between the full moon festival in Vietnam and in China.
Since Shang dynasty (10th century B.C), Chinese people have embarked on organizing festivals to celebrate the prosperity of harvests on a full- moon day in August, which became more popular in Tang dynasty. The terminology “Mid-Autumn festival” first appeared under Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BCE) as Zhaoshi queen spent a substantial amount of time and money on celebrating this with plenty of sophisticated ceremonies from August 13th – 17th.
While in Vietnam, since Ly dynasty, the Mid-Autumn affair was officially held in Thang Long – the old name of Vietnam capital along with boat racing, water puppet and lantern parade ceremonies. Written in the oldest myth, this festival was said to be an occasion for farmers to appreciate Dragon god for bringing rain to their crops.
In China, on these days, families gather to see the moon, and children will involve in many fun games such as carp-shaped lantern parades, lion dance, etc. For adults, full moon festival is considered as a night for poetry, music as well as dating.
Beside some similar activities in China, Vietnamese people celebrate this festival as a gratefulness for moon, sky, and land as they have brought us many presents leading to the wealth of our life. Moreover, during the day, family members also reunite to share stories and memories so that young people could express their gratitude toward their ancestors.
Symbol of the Moon
For Chinese people, Mid-Autumn affair always affiliates with the image of women’s parturition. Therein, people said that there was a myth about moon and sun. The moon represents the husband and wife, while the stars are their children. Moon possesses the negative side, depicting female, and its glamorous appearance will be exposed on full moon day in August.
Meanwhile, for Vietnamese people, not only does the moon carry the same meaning as in China but it also symbolizes harvest and living custom. This metaphor commences with the fact that since the first day of establishment, Vietnam has been an agricultural country. However, apart from China, our full moon festival is organized mainly for children.
Lantern hanging custom
An indispensable part of Mid-Autumn festival many Asian countries are the colorful lanterns. For Chinese people, normally, lanterns will have red color illustrating luck, happiness and the delightful atmosphere of festivals. Related to moon’s symbol, these lanterns also represent women’s capability of giving birth. They think that the sparkling light from lanterns will dispel bad luck and bring peace, joy, and happiness to their families.
Vietnamese lanterns comprise a variety of shapes, which will be held by children to hang out on full moon night and sing traditional songs together. Since Ly dynasty, handmade lanterns have been created from bamboo, papers or covered by silk. On the lanterns’ bodies, artists usually decorate with typical attributes of Vietnam such as peach blossoms, bamboo, historical sites, etc. In general, they are the embodiment of the well-being, warm-hearted family sentiment.
When it comes to Mid-Autumn festival, enjoying mooncakes is really nice. However, we can witness slight difference between these two countries. Chinese moon cakes are quite similar to those of Vietnamese with round shape covering paste bean, green tea, taro, and to make it more appetizing, they also add char siu pork and roasted meat. Additionally, a Chinese character with the meaning of luck and joy will be written on the top of the cake.
In Vietnam, we have two kinds of moon cakes: baked and sticky. Such like the one in China, Vietnamese baked cakes possess a shiny look with the general recipe constituting salted egg, green bean, lotus seeds, etc. Normally, the sticky ones are made in a simpler way but still able to maintain the elegant white color and light flavor of bean or taro.