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Saturday, October 7, 2006

Mid Autumn Festival and Mooncakes

Tết Trung Thu is a harvest festival much like other harvest festivals celebrated throughout Asia. It is held in the eighth lunar month and honors the Moon, which is at its brightest at this time of the year. However, Vietnam's festival differs in that it specifically celebrates children as well as the land's bounty.

The festival can be likened to a combination of Thanksgiving and Halloween, a time when families spend time with each other and for children to be doted on. Parents especially take time to make mooncakes, moon masks, and lanterns with their children. This is an event that children look forward to all year as they anxiously prepare for lantern contests or parades; gathering noisemakers and small drums, adding final touches to a precious lantern. In recent times, Vietnamese children have also been given gifts and lanterns in an effort to save time. However, traditionally, the emphasis was more towards spending quality and creative time with children and not cutting corners.

But before the festival begins, there's a mad rush for delicious mooncakes. What exactly are mooncakes? Think along the lines of a stuffed cookie, only made once a year so that Asian children and adults alike crave them all year long, much like Americans longing for Girl Scout cookies. They are comparable to the weight and size of a hockey puck, although obviously much more appealing when aimed for the mouth.


In Vietnam they are called bánh trung thu, or literally, mooncakes. The outer dough is a thin pastry, rolled flat and smoothed around a ball of filling, usually lotus nut paste or mixed nuts. Traditionally the filling also includes a small yolk which represents the moon. Once the outer shell covers the filling, the baker places it into a round mold, flattens it so that the design is imprinted, and whacks it out with a loud bang! Then, they finished the mooncakes with an eggwash glaze and carefully placed in an oven. As they bake, the rich aroma floats throughout the neighborhood and children eagerly wait for the adults to buy the expensive goodies.

Often the mooncakes are gifts from families, friends, and colleagues. Each cake is treasured and very rich tasting, often cut into small portions to savor with family and friends over cups of lotus tea. Other round foods are also served, such as grapefruit, pomegranates, apples, and grapes. Vietnamese families would then enjoy the snacks while watching the celebration and admiring the beautiful, luminous moon. And more importantly, surrounded by their children.


There are many legends associated with the Tết Trung Thu, including the story of the Moon Lady or Trang Yi, and the story of the carp who wanted to become a dragon or Cá Chép hóa Rồng.





Tết trung thu rước đèn đi chơi.

Em rước đèn đi khắp phố phường.

Lòng vui sướng với đèn trong tay

Em múa ca trong ánh trăng rằm.

Đèn ông sao với đèn cá chép,

đèn thiên nga với đèn bươm bướm,

em rước đèn này đến cung trăng.

Đèn xanh lơ với đèn tím tím,

đèn xanh lam với đèn trắng trắng

Trong ánh đèn rực rỡ muôn màu.



At Mid-autumn festival,

walk around with lanterns lit.

Take them all across the town,

singing to the autumn moon.

Lanterns all in different shapes, lantern angel, lantern dream,

Lantern fish, or lantern star, lantern swan or butterfly.

Take my lantern to the sky;

take my lantern to the moon!

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