I could hear rhythmic sounds of someone beating a drum. Students were running down the hall laughing and giggling. At the door of my classroom I bumped into Dave. He excitedly told me about a dragon dancing down the street in front of his house…breathing fire! I followed him to the main hall. A clown was playing the drum.
On the stage the moon was talking. Each and every student payed close attention to her. She asked for volunteers. Each student was given a balloon. The first to pop the balloon by sitting on it won a prize. Even the clown joined the fun! She tried and tried but just couldn’t pop her balloon.
Then the dragons performed; dancing and swaying to the beat of the drum. At the end they stood up on their hind legs and bowed to the cheering students.
Off the stage they went. The students screamed and surrounded the dragons. The dragons broke free and danced around the school. The students were in hot pursuit.
The Mid-Autumn festival is named “Tết Trung Thu” in Vietnamese. It is also known as Children’s Festival because of the event’s emphasis on children. In olden times, the Vietnamese believed that children, being innocent and pure, had the closest connection to the sacred and natural world. Being close to children was seen as a way to connect with animist spirits and deities.
Aside from the story of Chang’e (Vietnamese: Hằng Nga), there are two other popular folktales associated with the festival. The first describes the legend of Cuội, whose wife accidentally urinated on a sacred banyan tree. The tree began to float towards the moon, and Cuội, trying to pull it back down to earth, floated to the moon with it, leaving him stranded there. Every year, during the Mid-Autumn Festival, children light lanterns and participate in a procession to show Cuội the way back to Earth. The other tale involves a carp who wanted to become a dragon, and as a result, worked year in and year out until he was able to transform himself into a dragon.
One important event before and during the festival are lion dances. Dances are performed by both non-professional children’s groups and trained professional groups. Lion dance groups perform on the streets, going to houses asking for permission to perform for them. If the host consents, the “lion” will come in and start dancing as a blessing of luck and fortune for the home. In return, the host gives lucky money to show their gratitude.