Although modern toys had long been popular in Vietnam, kids in my younger days were very fond of our traditional folk games and toys, like lion dance or lanterns made of bamboo strips and cellophane shaped like rabbits, fish or stars. There were also revolving lanterns and paper lamp in various forms. Colorful flour figurines adorned with dyed chicken feathers were another special feature of the Moon Festival.
A few days before the festival my mother started preparing the children’s banquet, which we would “break in” on the evening of the festival. Every family prepared different decorations for this banquet, yet traditionally the table should bear a fruit tray that included custard-apples, pomelos, oranges, tangerines and pomegranates. In the center of this tray rested a soft persimmon, some ripe, spotted bananas, and some soft green young rice. The most common Mid-Autumn Festival treats were moon cake, which were served with lotus tea. These miniature cakes were made in the forms of pigs and fish for young children.
Stuffed snails comprised the only cooked dish on the Moon Festival table. Snail meat, either ground or chopped, was mix with marinated pestled-pork.
Sometimes chopped tree-ear mushrooms were added for more crunchiness. The ingredients were combined into bite-sized pieces, wrapped in ginger leaves, stuffed back into the snail shells and steamed. Since this dish was for adults, it was normally complemented by Mai Que Lo liquor.
ldeally, the mid-autumn banquet took place in the garden. To accommodate the limitations of city living, our table was normally placed on a terrace or near a window that offered a view of the moon. When the moon was full, after my mother had finished her conventional mid-month’s prayer, we kids started to “break-in” the banquet. Not until the table was set were we permitted to view the flour-figurine tray. To us, breaking-in the banquet meant fighting for those little colorful things we had each furtively set our sights upon.
After a few bites of food to please our superiors, we kids grabbed a few candles and our lanterns and ran out to join our friends. While parents carefully oversaw their children’s lantern displays, almost half of the lanterns went up in flames, causing as many small down-turned mouths. This provided a chance for the little ones to learn about caution. We had more freedom playing with the lanterns outdoors. On a rainy festival everything had to take place indoors, the lanterns hung in safe places in the house so that we kids could only stare at them.
Lion dances were another delight of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Lion heads come in all shapes and sizes. The lions are always teased by fat-bellied terrestrial genies. What kids appreciate most on this night is the right to make as much noise as possible with their drums without being yelled at by the grown-ups. The sight of kids wearing lion heads and carrying colorful lanterns, snaking in and out of banyan trees and bamboo groves in the moonlight brings a poetic beauty to Vietnam s Mid-Autumn Festival.