1. Star-shaped lantern (Đèn ông sao)
When it comes to Mid-Autumn Festival lanterns, many people reminisce about their childhood and the brightly colored five-pointed star lanterns made from bamboo sticks and cellophane. The star lanterns have always been a significant symbol of the Mid-Autumn Festival for Vietnamese kids, especially those in rural areas. Nowadays, you can easily find beautiful star-shaped lanterns with a circular surround in most stores. Originally, these lanterns were made from five-color cellophane and were later decorated with colorful designs and tinsel to make them look more fashionable and appealing.
The image of a five-pointed star with a circle represents the five elements of yin and yang in feng shui, making this lantern a symbol of balance and harmony in life, relationships, and the environment.
2. Humming-top lantern (Đèn cù) – Monk lantern (Đèn ông sư)
The Humming-top lantern gets its name from its spinning motion, which looks like that of a Humming-top (con cù quay). It’s also known as the monk lantern because its lampshade is shaped like the hats that monks wear. The lantern has two wooden wheels, one attached to the base, and the other rolling on the ground, that make it rotate. The lantern is moved via a handle that’s around one meter long. When the lantern moves, the wheel below it turns, causing the lantern to spin on its axis. The speed of the lantern’s rotation depends on how fast it’s moved.
3. Revolving lantern/Marching lantern (Đèn kéo quân)
The paper and bamboo revolving lantern is a popular decoration in China during holidays, particularly the Mid-Autumn Festival. It features familiar folk images inside and uses candles as a source of light. When lit, its shadow is projected onto the outside of the lantern in a continuous circle, creating an illusion of an endless moving army. This is why it is also referred to as the “marching lamp.”
The lantern’s symbolism reflects the importance of filial piety and the love that children have for their parents and grandparents, making it a significant part of the Mid-Autumn Festival. It is connected to the memory of Luc Duc, a man who was highly regarded for his strategic abilities and deep sense of filial piety in Chinese society.
4. Carp-shaped lantern (Lồng đèn cá chép)
The carp-shaped lanterns have been a traditional type of lantern with significant value for children. These lanterns are decorated with bright and colorful motifs made of red cellophane. The carp has had a special place in the hearts of Vietnamese people for generations. According to legend, the carp transforms into a dragon by jumping the dragon gate. Carp are also released as a symbol of transporting the Vietnamese Kitchen God to heaven on the 28th day of the lunar new year. The carp lantern represents the value of perseverance and overcoming challenges in every situation, making it a meaningful symbol for the Mid-Autumn Festival.
5. Can lanterns/Tube lanterns (Lồng đèn xe lon)
During the 80s and 90s, can lanterns were a popular toy among children. Many of us are familiar with homemade can lanterns, which can be easily made with a wire, two tin cans, a bamboo stick, and minimal effort. These can lanterns have rotating lights similar to a police car and can light up an entire street corner when pushed.
6. Round-shaped lanterns (Lồng đèn tròn)
In Vietnam, round-shaped lanterns are a popular item sold year-round, along with star-shaped lanterns. They are versatile, serving as both decorative pieces and a staple for children’s lantern parade activities during the Mid-Autumn Festival. The lanterns’ circular shape and the sparkling candlelight emitted from the inside symbolize the full moon on the day of August, representing the beauty of nature (moonlight) and the gratitude towards heaven and earth for a bountiful harvest.
7. Flower lantern (Đèn hoa đăng)
According to Vietnamese folklore, flower lanterns symbolize wisdom and nobility. During holidays, we light these lanterns as offerings to the Buddhas, honoring the spiritual values of our people. These lanterns are made of folded colored paper fashioned into the shape of a lotus flower, with a candle placed in the middle. They are then floated on the river during the full moon of each month, major holidays, and most notably, the Mid-Autumn Festival.
The sight of the flower lanterns floating on the river is a beautiful and meaningful experience. They bring forth everyone’s wishes and illuminate the surroundings, creating a warm, traditional atmosphere. Each lantern represents a beacon of hope, erasing suffering and praying for peace and prosperity for humanity.
Releasing flower lanterns is not only a traditional cultural beauty but also symbolizes the spiritual values of our nation. This activity draws a large number of foreign visitors who want to experience our unique cultural traditions in a bustling urban area. If you have the opportunity to visit Hoi An during the Mid-Autumn Festival or full moon day, don’t miss out on this exciting activity that takes place every night.
Above is a collection of vintage Mid-Autumn lanterns from the 80s and 90s. Many of these lanterns are no longer accessible or are only seen on rare occasions. Hopefully, these traditional lanterns will be maintained and encourage future generations to preserve the past’s beauty.