Celebrating Autumn on Vietnam's Mile-Long Lantern Street
Photo courtesy of Thinkstock
The Mid Autumn Festival is not really a major entry on the tourist calendar. Held in the middle of the eighth lunar month (which usually falls in September or October), this seasonal celebration takes place in East Asian countries like China, Singapore and Vietnam. It is sometimes referred to as the Full Moon Festival because it is always celebrated in the middle of the lunar cycle when the moon is at its brightest.
The holiday has its roots in ancient times. It began as a kind of harvest festival in China some three thousand or so years ago. However, in modern times, a lot of the Mid Autumn traditions and celebrations are geared towards children. In Vietnam, China and Taiwan, many locals get the day off to celebrate. To most people in these countries, the Full Moon Festival is the second most anticipated holiday of the year after the Lunar New Year.
A visually appealing celebration
Historic origins and cultural details aside, this is arguably one of the world’s most visually appealing festivals. Like the Lunar New Year, there are dragon and lion dances. Children wear ornately painted paper mache masks. The highlight, however, is the use of lighted lanterns. The paper or cloth lanterns, which are colorfully painted and distinctly shaped, are hung outdoors or hand carried during the festivities. In some places, you can also see “floating lanterns,” which are like mini hot air balloons.
Most visitors are attracted to the lanterns, though many will also seek out dragon-dance photo ops and try a bite of the dense, overly-sweet mooncakes that are served everywhere during the holiday. In tourist areas, mid-autumn lanterns appear weeks before the actual holiday, and they often stay lit afterward (mostly with bulbs, not candles). If you find yourself in major tourist havens like the historic town of Hoi An, Vietnam, you can buy a lantern at any time of year.
A new street of lights
One of Vietnam’s tourism upstarts, the beach city of Da Nang, doesn’t have the historic allure of Hoi An, which is actually only about an hour’s drive away. However, this year it is banking on visitors’ fascination with the lantern tradition. The walkways in Da Nang’s newly built Asia Park have been covered with 3,000 lanterns and light installations. The total length of this new “lantern road” is more than a kilometer.
Becoming more than a pit stop
Da Nang’s brand new airport is a stopping off point for Western tourists who are intent on visiting Hoi An and the other ancient city in the area, Hue. Da Nang itself has become a popular destination for tourists from other East Asian countries. The hotels in the city are filled with Singaporean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese and Korean tourists. Asia Park’s display will have traditional Vietnamese lanterns, but tourists from Singapore, Japan and other regional nations will also see their own country’s lantern designs hung along sections of the street. For example, some of the lanterns are painted with cherry blossoms pictures or covered in Japanese script.
These displays might actually hint at a growing tourism rivalry. The Da Nang-based event planners poached 100 artisans from nearby Hoi An to create the lantern street.
More by Josh Lew
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