From Vietnam to Vancouver…via the Yukon? Kim Dinh now celebrates the Autumn Moon Festival of Vietnam with Vancouverites, but that festival has come by a circuitous route. Dinh’s original immigration – and the festival’s first Canadian incarnation – was in the Yukon, where Dinh moved to be with her husband.
“I went straight from home to Whitehorse. From +40C to -40C!” laughs Dinh. “Actually, it turned out not so bad. We started the festival, and it was a big success!”
That festival, which now takes place in the lower mainland, reflects similar Autumn Moon Festivals from Vietnam. This year, on September 7, Dinh, who is now the Vancouver director of the Canada Vietnam Society, will host lantern-making workshops at Mackin House in Coquitlam and at the Outlet Work Room in Port Coquitlam later in the afternoon. The workshops will be followed on September 14 with celebrations and a lantern parade, beginning at the Leigh Square Plaza in Port Coquitlam and at All Saints Parish Hall in Coquitlam.
An autumn moon and a midnight sun
Dinh moved to Whitehorse because of family, and this theme of family and children is still at the heart of her festival.
A story at the heart of the festival teaches children how to care for nature and how to forgive, explains Dinh.
“Chu Cuoi is a special legend of Vietnam,” she says. “If you look at the moon’s shadow, it looks like a big tree with a boy seated in it. We built a legend from this picture.”
In the legend, a boy, Chu Cuoi, disrespects a Banyan tree, a piece of nature in every Vietnamese village, Dinh continues.
“The trees are amazing!” says Dinh. “They can be a thousand years old. You have to take care of the tree, keep it very clean. Chu Cuoi was in charge of the tree. He peed on the tree and yelled. Suddenly the tree uprooted itself and flew to the moon. Chu Cuoi was scared, and he followed the tree. Now, maybe five hundred years later, he’s still there. So we light the lanterns to show him the way to come home.”
Dinh’s festival also features legends from other Asian countries, she says.
“Hang Nga is another legend from China,” she recounts. “A king wanted to kill all the subjects to gain longevity. His queen was angry. She went up to the moon and lived there. So we have the queen of the moon.”
The festival will also have mooncakes. In Vietnam, children give and receive the cakes, made from rice syrup, an exchange that symbolizes a key part of Vietnamese culture.
“We offer cake to parents and grandparents, and they give a share to their kids,” says Dinh. “This is our religion, ancestor worship. We keep the family as a strong core in Vietnam.”
Lighting the way
It’s the children who are in charge of the lanterns at this festival, says Dinh.
“They start with a bamboo frame, and they put the paper on around a cup or jar, [something to] put a candle in,” she says. “It takes a little bit of skill. Then we join the parade!”
Hand-made lanterns are not usual in Vietnam, where the lanterns are bought. But, notes Dinh, making lanterns by hand allows the festival to be more inclusive.
“Before I came to Canada, I worked in the Cultural Department in Ho Chi Minh City,” she says. “We thought about the poor and started to organize workshops. All kids enjoyed making lanterns, and it spread to the schools. Now it’s run by youth groups, and every city does it.”
Activities like lantern-making and festivals like this one can brighten a child’s life, Dinh points out.
“You grow up with this memory, then your childhood becomes colourful,” she comments. “Not just cartoons, movies, picture books. [You] carry it, when you grow up.”
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