The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the harvest or children’s festival, takes place on the 14th and 15th day of the eighth lunar month, usually falling in September. Marking the end of the final rice harvest of the year, this centuries-old festival is a chance for families to celebrate a good yield, spend time with their children, chase away bad spirits and honour the moon. If we were to choose just one must-see event in Hoi An, this is it.
Hanoi and Saigon may be steaming ahead when it comes to modern development, but rural Vietnam and in particular Hoi An has kept a firmly rooted in tradition as generations of families still hold faith in myths, legends, fables and folklore. For thousands of years these traditions have formed the heart of the community, protecting health, the home and most importantly the family. Hoi An is a great place to experience this festival.
In the weeks leading up to it, the atmosphere in the town and surrounding villages becomes fuelled with excitement as children rehearse their dragon dance and drumming in the street and shops burst with vibrant, elaborate costumes and masks. Friends and family gift each other with boxes of moon cake, a sweet treat filled with a paste made of beans or lotus seeds, often with an egg yolk in the middle. There’s salty, savoury versions as well. On the big night, a procession of excited children carry star, moon and animal shaped paper lanterns, which represent the sun circling the moon. Then it’s the turn of the dragon dancers to arrive and where the dragons go, the crowd follows. The cheeky dragon visits each shop, business and house to bestow good luck and fortune. They perform a choreographed dance, where the dragon, urged on by a smiley moon faced ‘tamer’ representing the Lord Earth, enters each building and does its good luck cha-cha-cha. The host then gives lucky money as thanks. It’s a riotous affair.
For epic performances, head towards the big businesses in town like Yaly or Cargo as night falls and you will be rewarded with professional dragon dancing teams climbing huge bamboo poles and breathing fire; it’s a must-see performance that escapes every health and safety law you can think of and attracts huge crowds. Hold on to your handbag!
Aided by the thousands of paper lanterns on the river, Bach Dang Street is possibly the best-lit spot and from here you can escape on a riverboat tour or work your way to the quieter edge of town, where you will find dozens of kids doing their own dragon performance tour for fun. It feels more authentic and makes for photo opportunities and involvement. Kids go to homes and businesses and ask for permission to perform. Afterwards they will be awarded with lucky money. Give these kids 20,000 dong and you will get your own performance and their parents will love you for it.
Riverside Bach Dang Street, which due to a wider road tends to be the easiest to navigate, is a good meeting point if you get lost amid the madness. Aided by the thousands of paper lanterns on the river, it’s possibly the best-lit spot; or work your way to the quieter edge of town, where you will find dozens of kids playing at their own dragon performance for fun, which somehow feels a bit more authentic.
By Caroline Mills
Last updated on 20th August, 2016.