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A mixed nut mooncake from Oakland Chinatown’s Ruby King Bakery Cafe. Credit: Sheena C./Yelp

Eastlake/Little Saigon Mid-Autumn Festival
Clinton Park (655 International Blvd), Oakland
Sept. 18, 2021, noon–5 p.m.

Lincoln Summer Nights
Lincoln Park (261 11th St.), Oakland
Thursdays from 5-8 p.m. from Sept. 16 to Oct. 21.

The Mid-Autumn Festival traditionally falls on the 15th day of the eighth month on the lunar calendar, which on the Gregorian calendar this year is Sept. 21. On this date, many East and Southeast Asian families celebrate by sharing mooncakes — the sweet pastries, round like the moon — enjoying lanterns and admiring together the beauty of what is believed to be the brightest moon of the year. It is a celebration of family and of harvest, a cultural tradition that centers on loved ones coming together. 

This week, several Oakland-based community organizations are joining forces to revive a local celebration of the day. After a 2020 hiatus, and with careful consideration of ongoing health and safety concerns, Clinton Park will host this year’s Eastlake/Little Saigon Mid-Autumn Festival on Saturday, Sept. 18, from noon-5 p.m.

Spearheaded by the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce this year, in partnership with restaurant support nonprofit Good Good Eatz, the festival will feature a procession with lanterns, as well as games and a mooncake-making workshop for kids. 

At the 2019 Mid-Autumn Festival — the last time the event was held — patrons filled up on sweet moonpies from local vendors. Credit: Oakland Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce/Facebook

“The festival in our Vietnamese culture, known as Tet Trung Thu, is kind of like Halloween,” said Trinh Banh of Good Good Eatz, the organization that provides support and technical expertise to small and often immigrant-owned food businesses in Oakland areas like Eastlake/Little Saigon, Fruitvale and Chinatown.

Banh remembers celebrating as a child: “The kids take their lanterns and go around, getting treats. From what I remember, as a kid, it’s [the tradition] about sharing and gifting your loved ones, exchanging mooncakes with loved ones.” 

This week also marks the kickoff of Lincoln Summer Nights, which will be held on Sept. 16 from 5-8 p.m. at Lincoln Park (261 11th St. near Oakland Chinatown) with its own paper lantern celebration. Co-sponsored by Friends of Lincoln Park and the Oakland Chinatown Coalition, the event runs every Thursday night from Sept. 16 to Oct. 21.

Anchoring both celebrations will be the display of nearly 2,000 solar-powered lanterns, hand-painted by 1,500 students and 50 teachers from four schools in Oakland Unified School District: Lincoln Elementary, Clinton Park Elementary, Oakland Tech High School and FADA (Fashion, Art, and Design Academy).

Behind the lantern project, said Civic Design Studios founder and Good Good Eatz co-founder Tommy Wong, is an effort to bolster the digital infrastructure of older businesses in the area. To that end, Cut Fruit Collective, a group of artists and creatives that produced last year’s successful zine fundraiser, Save Our Chinatowns, is joining forces with Good Good Eatz to help with lantern painting and soon will be releasing a guide to mooncake purchasing.

Lanterns painted by 600 Franklin Elementary students for 2021’s Mid-Autumn Festival in Clinton Park. Credit: Civic Design Studio/Instagram

Banh emphasized that this year’s festival, although somewhat muted in comparison to celebrations past, is intended to lift the spirits of community members and to bring support to AAPI community-serving businesses.

“Many businesses are still struggling, and in some ways, it’s even worse now,” Banh said. With deep ties to the neighborhood, Banh hopes that the festival will help bring much needed attention to the restaurants and businesses in the area — places where her mom “has been shopping since we lived in that neighborhood since 30-something years … places likes Cam Huong, Sun Sang [Market], Sun Hop Fat [Market], Lee’s Sandwiches.”   

At Lincoln Summer Nights, expect interactive games and arts and crafts activities for families, plus resource sharing from local community groups. According to Tommy Wong, founder of Civic Design Studio, the event was from its inception intended to enliven community interaction in the park, with the twin goal of enhancing public safety as a result of the increased foot traffic and community presence.

Civic Design Studio works with schools and teachers while plugging them into neighborhoods as cross-sector partners to work on art and design projects that serve to strengthen communities. Students and teachers have been excited about the lantern project, Wong said, and it’s a way for them to feel good about sharing something they create with their communities.  

This year, Wong said, organizers have carefully planned activities to ensure that participants are as safe as possible from exposure to COVID-19. The painting and lantern hanging has been deliberately broken up to happen in small gatherings, and the actual lantern festival event will involve an outdoor procession to keep the participants moving.

“It’s all part of a large decentralized effort to celebrate our heritage,” Wong said. “This year’s event is to … build community — our form of safety — having the culture at the forefront of meeting our community needs.”