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Modernization Of A Holiday: The Mid-Autumn Celebration In Saigon

Today’s Trung Thu (Mid-Autumn Festival) has become a “modernized” affair with plastic lanterns vendors and mooncake shops sprouting up on every corner, selling their wares a month beforehand. But there was a time when the holiday was characterized by family gatherings, children’s toys and fine, hand-made lanterns, few of which can still be found on Saigon’s streets.

Originally a festival of harvest and fertility, Trung Thu celebrated the ties between children and family for eons. Therefore, toys and lanterns are never absent upon the occasion’s arrival.

Toys during Trung Thu used to consist of delicate, hand-made, lanterns made from cellophane paper or even condensed milk cans. Drums and paper mache lion heads were also a favorite as lion dancing was once a popular form of entertainment during Trung Thu.

It’s easy to imagine a garden glowing with the light from lanterns and the sounds of children’s laughter while the adults gather at the table, enjoying hot tea and freshly baked mooncakes.

These are the scenes going through my mind when driving down present-day lantern street in District 5, with its massive crowds and constant honking.

The premature appearance of mooncake shops, which used to be a sign that Trung Thu was just around the corner, obliterate any remaining thrill or anticipation.

Though this time of transition between tradition and modernity is a blessing and a curse for every passing Trung Thu, the excitement I once had for it as a child has too passed. 

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