Handmade masks are seen at the Temple of Literature, Hanoi. (PHOTO / VIET NAM NEWS)
HANOI - The Mid-Autumn Festival was celebrated in capital city of Hanoi with hundreds of excited children jumping with their parents in sack races, skipping rope, playing Vietnamese variations of hopscotch and pickup sticks, and learning how to make a mask.
A temperature of 30 degrees Celsius and 94 percent humidity are hardly the ideal, inspirational conditions for celebrating an event called “Mid-Autumn Festival”. Forget golden foliage, nippy evenings and the smell of wood burning in the fireplace. Suppress cravings for pumpkin pie, roasted chestnuts and hot apple cider. On the other hand, where else would you find pink dogs sculpted out of succulent pomelo? Dragons chiseled from carrots? Lanterns in the shape of grains of rice?
One of this year’s main celebrations in Hanoi was held for the first time at a unique venue, the 11th century Temple of Literature, a Confucian temple that was also the site of one of the world’s first universities. Its five courtyards, gateways, pavilions, and ancient stelae of the scholars who studied there were illuminated to serve as a backdrop to a three-day event featuring a potpourri of folk games, rituals and performances.
Vietnam marks the traditional festival, as do some other nations in Asia, around the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar when the moon is at its fullest. Only Tet, the Lunar New Year, is designated as a more important annual observance. This year the moon will be at its fullest on October 4, but the celebrations began over the weekend.
“We wanted to bring an autumn ambiance to the city,” said one of the organisers, Hoang To Anh, decked out in a traditional ao dai costume of tunic and long pants, standing beside a table heaped high with seasonal fruit eaten, she explained, while admiring the brilliant moon.
The festival folds into one agrarian and pagan-based traditions found in different forms throughout the world, including a post-harvest theme, moon worship, thanksgiving for nature’s bounty, elements of Halloween and the Hindu Diwali festival of lights, and more.
In recent years, it has evolved into a children-centred event. “When you have children, you pay particular attention to the festival,” said Tran Bao Ngoc, a model and former Miss Viet Nam, who attended the happening. “It reminds me of my childhood”.
She conceded, nonetheless, that the festival was mostly appealing for younger children. The older ones, she added ruefully, are more interested in video games and other thrills. If they do take part in a mid-autumn celebration it’s mostly to take selfies, she added with a smile.
Her observation seemed apt. The majority of the hundreds of excited children jumping with their parents in sack races, skipping rope, playing Vietnamese variations of hopscotch and pickup sticks, and learning how to make a mask,appeared on the younger side of ten. Winners were treated to a variety of goodies, ranging from masks to rice figurines known as to he, to moon cakes in the shape of animals.
Thuy Evans, a university student who was one of the volunteers handing out gifts to the children, said the festivities took her back to celebrations with her family in the countryside when she was growing up. “We would also put on masks, we had much energy to run around,” she recalled.
With all the electronic, digital toys and games today’s children have, are they still keen to get such simple presents, we asked. “This is something special to them. They are not so used to this kind of gift, but it makes them feel happy because they are enjoying the festival with their parents and grandparents,” she said.
Among the parents shepherding their toddlers in a Vietnamese-style conga line straggling behind a dancing lion and dragon was Le Thu Huyen. She explained that in some places, dance groups perform on the streets andin people’s homes and are considered to bring luck and fortune.
Under a 15th century stele inscribed with the name of a doctoral candidate who passed the imperial examinations, a nine-year-old girl was balancing twin baskets full of rice sheaves as she teetered on a log.
In one of the Temple courtyards, next to a pool festooned with floating lotus flower lanterns, a group of young women was holding incense sticks. The incense is burned, they explained in a mixture of English and pantomime, to worship the moon goddess. “Maybe,” one of them said shyly, “she will bring me good luck and I have (a) husband and children.”
The event was organized jointly by the Hanoi People’s Committee and the Quan An Ngon ethnic food restaurant chain, which seeks to brand itself as a preserver of tradition and culture.