The full moon around the time of the Canadian Thanksgiving always brings Lan back to the Mid-Autumn Festival in Vietnam, one of the harvest time festivities, but for children. Her parents often put on a feast for the occasion when she was a young child. Memories of those annual celebrations under the full moon follow her throughout her life, resurface every autumn and invite her to board a train to visit her childhood.
Today was the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month.
Lan had been expecting this day for a few weeks now. In the morning, she followed her mother to the market. Lanterns in different colours and shapes, fishes, butterflies, bunnies, made of transparent cellophane were on display. Her mother asked which one she would like to have, and she pointed to the red fish. Then her mother let her choose animals made of clay, as big as her thumb, to bring home: a rabbit, a pig, a rooster, a cow, all brightly painted.
When they got home, she already saw half a dozen of folding lanterns made with rice paper hung on the clotheslines. Someone had taken out the big lantern with an electric lightbulb inside. When the light was turned on, images of a procession moved round and round, a scholar coming home with his entourage of servants carrying gifts from the King.
In the evening, they only had corn on the cob for supper but her mother prepared a feast for later, mainly fruits, moon cakes and sweet puddings, set out on a table in the front courtyard. Sections of pomelo, rind and membrane removed, were arranged in the form of a long-haired puppy, with two peeled longans as his eyes and rambutans as his floppy ears.
She and her two older sisters each had a lantern. They lit a candle inside, carrying them with a long bamboo stick and walking around the courtyard. They did not join the neighbourhood children, who paraded in a luminous procession like a giant dragon through the alleys, raising their lanterns high: red fishes, green bees, yellow butterflies, blue stars….
When she looked up, a clear, glowing moon looked down at her from the deep blue sky. She could see a boy sitting under a banyan tree, leaning against a rock. Or was it an old woodcutter with his dog who inhabited the moon according to legend?
The children sang. She knew all the songs by heart. Songs about the moon as a beautiful girl, songs about the old man and his dog who flew up to the moon hanging on to a branch of the banyan tree, songs about the boy who, because he lied, was banished to the moon, sitting under the tree, looking down, wishing he could come home. Songs to invite them back to earth to enjoy the festivities for one evening.
Her two sisters had come into the house, she was the only one standing at the gate, craning her neck, following the children with her eyes. Their singing and parading pulled her in but she resisted her desire to join them. She knew that her parents would not want her to mingle with the neighbourhood children. They were afraid that she would get lost. The parade turned onto the street out of her sight but she could still hear their faint singing for a long time.