Jinn Hoang made setting up for a Mid-Autumn Festival look easy, but catching up with him was a lot harder.
On a recent September night, he spent most of the evening running all over St. Mark the Evangelist Church in West Hartford, Conn., making sure that everyone had what they needed and that the children were having fun.
“For me, the Mid-Autumn Festival is about eating good food. Have a beautiful lantern, maybe have a lantern competition,” said Hoang, a volunteer. “Walk around with friends and families and celebrate the goodness of the season.”
The festival is an annual celebration that’s popular in many Asian countries, and it reunites friends and families. Festivities happen on the 15th day of the eighth month based on the lunar calendar, which is usually mid-to-late September. A celebration typically involves making paper lanterns, watching lion-dancing performances, eating mooncakes and having dinner with family and friends.
The holiday originated as an agricultural harvest celebration during the autumn full moon. But eventually, the harvest celebration evolved through different religions and mythologies, like giving thanks to the Moon Goddess of Immortality.
Michelle Nguyen related one story she heard from her mother about a man whose wife died from a snake bite.
“He discovered a plant that had healing powers, but the rule is you can’t urinate on it,” Nguyen said. “But when his wife was resurrected, she accidentally did that. The plant then flew up to the sky, the man tried to grab it and ended up on the moon as punishment.”
The Mid-Autumn Festival was a special occasion as a part of an ongoing night market series organized by the St. Andrew Dung-Lac Parish, a Vietnamese Catholic community that worships at St. Mark the Evangelist Church led by Father Andy Mai. Twice a month starting from May to October, the church’s parking lot is transformed into a typical street market that’s popular in Vietnam and many other regions in Asia.
Nguyen drove up from East Lyme with her family specifically for the festival. She said it was important for her 4-year-old daughter to experience the family’s heritage.
“She was asking me, where are we going today? And I told her it’s the Mid-Autumn Festival and she’s like, ‘What’s that?’ We explained that you’ll get to see lion dancing, you’ll get to hold your lantern and parade it, and get good food,” she said. “It’s all about the children. They get to have fun.”
Phung Hoang, who brought his young niece and nephew, said the celebration was about family and community.
“From what I can remember, the festival is about the end of the summer harvest where they plan for the whole year, so it’s important to have a fruitful harvest,” Hoang said. “That’s why it’s important to the traditional culture that we have a big celebration to celebrate the harvest from the past year.”
For Isabella Nguyen, 13, and Julia Ng, 12, the festival’s highlight was mooncakes. They are traditionally round cakes that are eaten during the festival with tea and given as gifts.
“It’s a pastry that usually has a sweet filling in it,” Julia said. “Or an egg yolk that’s a little salty. It actually tastes really good, and I can eat a lot of them.”
“Same,” Isabella said with a laugh. “I always remember my family having a bunch of them around the house during Mid-Autumn Festivals, so it’s a big thing for us.”
As the two girls went on a hunt for their favorite dessert, Isabella said it was nice to be out with family and friends.
“I’ve been learning from my family about different Vietnamese cultures because we’re Vietnamese,” she said. “I think it’s pretty cool to be with a community of other people who celebrate the same thing as you and who understand you.”
The remaining night markets will be held on Saturdays: Sept. 17, Oct. 1 and Oct. 15.