The “Day of the Children,” or “Children’s Day,” in Vietnam is a day every country should adopt. Few countries treat their children as decently or with more respect then the Vietnamese. Children are a precious commodity and need lots of love and guidance, not just from the parents, or the family, but also from the entire community.

On my first trip to Viet Nam since the war, I was amazed at the freedom children are given. They toddled about the sidewalk going about their business, chewing rice cakes or playing with toys, and occasionally getting close to the street and the rushing motorbikes. I could not tell which parents were theirs. Any time they got into a dangerous situation, some adult or older child returned them to safety. All the women seemed to hug them or give them a tickle. No one in particular appeared to be watching them. That is, as I came to learn, because everyone is watching them. They do not belong to a single family – they belong to the entire Vietnamese family.

In 1925 the World Conference for the Wellness of Children initiated a day to celebrate children. In 1954, this day was established internationally as an effort to protect children from working long and dangerous jobs. These attempts to appreciate children came well after the Children’s Festival in Vietnam that had been celebrating children for hundreds of years, not just once, but twice each year.

Vietnamese believe that children are innocent and pure and form a close connection between the sacred and the natural world. They are, simply put, good luck, and should be treated carefully. Anything offering good luck should be treated respectfully and with great care, fed well and given gifts. In some ways Children’s Day is like a European Christmas with its candies, fruits, and toys, but with few religious overtones.

Children’s Days are celebrated in Vietnam June 1 and during the mid Autumn Festival known as Tet Trung Thu. It is one of the most important festivals in Viet Nam second only to the New Year’s celebration of Tet.

The Mid-Autumn festival started as a celebration to honor a dragon that brought rain for crops and people offered prayers for children since children represent a certain kind of wealth. 

Lion and dragon dances help celebrate the occasion. Dancers in costume often travel from home to home offering their services in exchange for “lucky” money. Flying lanterns are also part of the celebration. According to legend a man named Choi tried to save his wife after she accidently relieved herself on a sacred banyan tree. The tree started to float away and Choi tried to hold it down, but was instead carried away toward the moon. Flying lanterns are often lit and sent toward the full moon to show him the path to return home.

Moon cakes are a special treat at this time. The round cakes symbolize completeness: a circle without beginning or end. People also mold animals using rice paste and food dyes. Nothing tastes better than munching a colorful and sweet water buffalo.

I was happy to be invited to play my trumpet during the Children’s Day Festival at S.O.S. Village, an orphanage in Dien Bien Phu. The orphanage is spotless and presently houses 110 children. They expect to expand rapidly during the coming year.

The festivities were held mostly after dark in the orphanage play field. Lights had been placed strategically around the field. I walked through the preparation building and talked with some of the young performers. By talking, I mean I made silly faces, laughed and frowned, anything to communicate.

The lovely night, full moon, and beautiful children combined to make a magical night. There was the usual enumeration praising adults and dignitaries in attendance who occasionally droned on in response, but the children waited patiently for the performers, the dancing, the games, and the singing. They especially enjoyed the dragon and lion dancing, the colorful beasts swirling about the field and spitting fire. The evening ended with gifts for all the children.

Much can be learned from they way we treat our children. I have been traveling to Viet Nam for over four years. In all that time I have never heard a Vietnamese child cry. It is amazing what love can do. 

 

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