Journeys Through the Year main content.

Journeys Through the Year

Part of the Vietnam exhibition.

The Mid-Autumn Children's Festival

Mr. Hoang Ba Kinh of Tu Khe village fashions papier-mch; unicorn masks.
AMNH / J. Levinson

The Mid-Autumn festival is a high point in the year's journey for Kinh and Hoa families, a time to consider the bounty of past seasons and the promise of what is to come. Once a prelude to the harvest and a petition for abundance, the festival has become a loving celebration of the children who make up roughly half of Vietnam's population.

In the days before the festival, toys, masks and lanterns spill out of shops and stalls along Hanoi's Hang Ma and Hang Luoc streets. Then, under the full moon of the eighth lunar month, gleeful children parade around their neighborhoods, wearing colorful masks and carrying bobbing lanterns that illuminate the scene. At parties, doting relatives shower youngsters with toys and special treats. To American eyes, Mid-Autumn combines the best of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

Mid-Autumn Masks

"I love wearing masks patterned after characters like...Sailor Moon from Japanese anime." —A six-year-old boy

Mid-Autumn masks.
AMNH / D. Finnin

On Mid-Autumn night, young children parade through the neighborhood wearing masks of their favorite characters. Among them, Vietnamese and Chinese legendary heroes are cheek-to-cheek with Santa Claus, Donald Duck, ninja warriors, and Japanese animated figures. Handcrafted masks produced in villages near Hanoi now must compete with imported plastic from China. The images they represent reflect global influences on the world of the urban child.

Mid-Autumn Toys

Vietnam's resourceful craftsmen create toys from a range of materials, among them straw, plant stems, rice paste, string, and clay. Recycled paper and cigarette cartons become unicorn masks and party horns. Tin storage drums and, more recently, aluminum drink cans are transformed into a variety of toys. Tin toys made from recycled materials have been popular in Hanoi's Mid-Autumn market since at least the 1920s.

Mid-Autumn Night

The night of the festival is traditionally a time for strolling under the full autumn moon. Families and neighborhood social and cultural associations arrange displays of treats at Mid-Autumn parties for children. Then the children, some masked and some carrying lanterns, parade through the streets.

Traditional shadow lanterns, often depicting legendary heroes, have been enjoyed in Vietnam since the 12th century. One or more bands of figures, either cutouts or silhouettes, rotate around a flickering flame, making each lantern a small shadow puppet theater. Recently, these lanterns have declined in popularity, as they are expensive to produce.

"My friends and I file off in a long procession of lanterns. That is Mid-Autumn!" —Nguyen Tuan Anh, age nine, Hanoi