In Hoi An, when the full moon is out the city becomes spiritual

If you’re lucky enough to be in Hoi An on the night of a full moon, you’ll witness a delightful transformation taking place in the streets of the Old Town. A calm descends as the electric street lights are turned off and all the lanterns are lit. No traffic is allowed on the streets, not even bicycles. This is a night for promenading and connecting with Vietnam’s rich cultural heritage.

The full moon is an auspicious night all over Vietnam. It is a night for people to remember their ancestors. Families and friends will gather around courtyard or pavement altars to drink tea and wait to see the moon’s reflection in their cups. On these table altars are the yellow flowers purchased that morning at the market, incense sticks, maybe a little clay figure of the jade rabbit and a collection of offerings of fruit, tea and wine. Some may make offerings to Chang’e who, according to Chinese mythology, drank the elixir of immortality and floated up to the moon. Some may honor the spirits that connect this world to the past and to the future, the spirits that run in the rivers and blow through the trees and that bind all humans to the natural and the supernatural.

A Week in Hoi An 3

Similar to the Lunar New Year (Tet) festival that takes place in January or February, the market women sell sunshine yellow chrysanthemums and marigolds especially for this occasion. Bunches of flowers are swept up into baskets and bicycle panniers; they are tucked under arms and squashed in with the groceries to be taken home for the evening’s celebrations. They make tributes of yellow flowers that signify hope and family happiness, or perhaps, a wish for a new baby.

Another aspect of Vietnamese life is their love of playing games. Any time of day or night, groups of men gather around card games or chess boards but on full moon night you can see Chinese chess up close because games are staged outside some of the ancient houses and temples. Dressed in traditional Vietnamese costume, men play the game by candle light and welcome onlookers. If you want to take part, they will even introduce you to the rudiments of the game.

Other full moon festivals in Vietnam are Ram Thang Bay during the seventh lunar month when families give thanks to parents and ancestors and make offerings to pardon lost or wandering souls. The famous Mid-Autumn Festival in the eighth lunar month, which is celebrated throughout East Asia, is a time for homecoming and harvest and is marked by the exchange of moon cakes. In ancient times, Confucian scholars used to make up poems for impromptu performances on the night of this festival each year. Now this tradition is remembered each month in Hoi An as poetry readings are staged around the town.

To find out about future full moon dates, visit www.hoian-tourism.com.

Bio: A professional artist working in Vietnam, Bridget March has lectured at Leeds College of Art (UK) and practiced as a freelance product designer. She specializes in urban landscapes and aims to reveal the hidden treasures of city life and the richness of smaller town cultures through her illustrations. Bridget also holds drawing classes for beginners and improvers in Saigon. Find more of her work at BrushWithAsia.blogspot.com