At 6:30 p.m. Monday evening, McKeldin Mall was teeming with activity.

Facing due east from the sundial in the middle of the mall, performers practiced with stringed objects that seemed mechanically similar to yo-yos, but were clearly something else. Close to them, a group of girls stood testing their skills with light-up hula hoops.

Along the walkway leading from the sundial to the prominent fountain at the eastern locus of the mall, a large group of students milled about. They spoke amongst themselves gregariously, often stopping by a stand directly overlooking the fountain.

The evening’s amber sunlight bathed the scene in a sort of picturesque elegance that was almost too much to bear. I sauntered over to the grassy area where the acrobats were practicing and lay down on my back with my face toward the heavens, taking in the ambiance for a few minutes.

The stage was set for the second iteration of Lunar Lanterns, an event hosted annually by the university’s Vietnamese Student Association.

The idyllic vibe itself did little to communicate what the intent or purpose of this event was, but after some research, I have the following to report:

Lunar Lanterns can be thought of as a campus adaptation of the Vietnamese Mid-Autumn Festival. The Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month (roughly late September to early October) and commemorates the rice harvest.

In Vietnam, the festival is an especially joyous occasion for children, who are given treats like Mooncakes to enjoy and spend the moonlit evening putting on performances with lanterns.

Event organizer Brian Tran, a junior biochemistry major, gave me a concise run down of the evening’s significance.

“Basically, this is a social event in which the focal point involves sending lanterns down the fountain of the mall. Everybody releases their lanterns into the fountain at 8:00 [p.m.]. We’ve got lanterns for sale at the counter over there, and the proceeds go to this charity called Catalyst that helps fight human trafficking in Vietnam.

“Other than that, it’s just an opportunity to come out and enjoy some bubble tea, snacks, live performances and hang out with friends.”

Click here for more photos from the event.

Things officially got underway when some of the performers on the plot of grass by the sundial descended onto the brick paving with their stringed accoutrements in hand. These, I later found out, were called poi—the performers were in fact part of the UMD Juggling Club.

Some of the students who’d been milling about before took a seat by the sundial to observe the complex interplay between physics, juggler and gravity. The weighted ends of the poi whooshed through the air like nunchaku — and no, this wasn’t a scene from Enter the Dragon, but it was still cool to watch.

A string of other performances followed. There was an a cappella duet, a singer-guitarist, an interpretive dance routine and more. In between performances, an emcee from the VSA would hype up the crowd, commanding:

“When I say ‘lunar,’ you say, ‘lanterns!’”

“Lunar!”

“Lanterns!”

“Lunar!”

“Lanterns!”

“It’s lit!”

This last quip was met with laughter and applause. Because, as you may suspect, being ‘lit’ was literally the Mo. of this event.

As the evening wore on, the sun gradually descended behind the apex of McKeldin Library, to be seen no more. The sky’s amber and deep blue were replaced by a deeper blue with streaks of silver. Bubble tea flowed like the water in the mall’s fountain as students carried on with the evening’s events.

Featured Photo Credit: Glowing lanterns decorate McKeldin in the moonlight. (Heather Kim/Bloc Photographer)

Horus Alas is a senior philosophy major and can be reached at heliocentricnonchalance@gmail.com.

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