Primary Source

Tet Trung Thu festival, Vietnam [Photographs]

Annotation

The photographs show children during the mid-Autumn Harvest Festival, or Tet Trung Thu in Vietnam, a children's festival associated with the full moon. Tet Trung Thu follows the harvest in the eighth lunar month, falling usually during September or October, and is associated with the ascendancy of the moon over the sun in winter, the bounty of life, and prayers for the return of the sun's warmth and light. According to some accounts, it is a time especially devoted to children after the work of farming and the busy harvest time. During the Tet Trung Thu holiday, children bang on drums and wear masks like a lion or tiger to frighten Ra Hu, the mythological creature responsible for the moon's phases and eclipses, to prevent him from gobbling up the full moon. Traditional Vietnamese handcrafted lanterns are an important part of the ceremony, as shown in the photograph of a shop displaying a wide variety of the toys. Traditional lantern shapes include: a five-star lantern to represent the sun, a frog-shape to represent the moon, and a spinning lantern to represent the earth's seasons. Another spinning lantern propelled by the heat of a candle burning inside is a symbol of the earth's seasonal revolution around the sun. The photograph from around 1900 shows a boy playing with a lantern in the shape of a rabbit. In recent years, commentators have been lamenting the fact that imported plastic toys from China are displacing the Vietnamese handicraft toys, threatening extinction of Vietnamese skills and design traditions.

The full moon appears reddish in color and larger when it rises in the fall, and this festival is also associated with folk tales about the moon. Among them is the story of Cá hóa Rông, a carp who strove hard to become a dragon and succeeded. Another story is about Trang Yi, The Lady in the Moon who took an immortality potion intended for her husband. She began to rise into the sky and became the Goddess of the Moon who appears in mid-Autumn to receive offerings. The celebration is believed to date back thousands of years to the beginning of settled agriculture in Southeast Asia, and is popular to the present day in Vietnam and among Vietnamese living overseas. Tet Trung Thu is associated with holiday foods. Moon cakes (pastries with nuts and bean paste) sometimes include egg yolk on the inside, which is meant to symbolize the full moon. The moon cakes are given to friends, neighbors, and business associates as gifts. Evening visits to pagodas and temples, with prayers, incense, and fruit and flower offerings, complete the celebrations.

Source

"This shop features butterfly lanterns for Mid-Autumn, 1932 (Musée de l'Homme)," American Museum of Natural History, http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/vietnam/gallery/08_year.php?image=1&page=index; "Boy holding a rabbit lantern, early 1900s (Musée de l'Homme)", American Museum of Natural History, http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/vietnam/gallery/08_year.php?image=5&page=index (accessed November 24, 2009). Annotated by Susan Douglass.

How to Cite This Source

"Tet Trung Thu festival, Vietnam [Photographs]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #374, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/374 (accessed December 22, 2014).