The full moon has fascinated humans since the beginning of time. The monthly phenomenon is steeped in superstition with symptoms and illnesses such as insomnia and insanity having historically been linked to the full moon.
These days, as our knowledge of the full moon and why it happens is relatively complete, the full moon is mostly just regarded as a beautiful sight in the sky and – in many places – as an excuse to throw a party. Here are some of the full moon celebrations taking place around the world.
Wild Thai Times
Perhaps the most famous of the full moon celebrations in Asia is the Full Moon Party on the island of Koh Phangan in Thailand. There, the revelry reaches a fever pitch with thousands attending wild, debauchery and, at times, drug-filled beach raves that have made the place rather infamous and a magnet to travellers from across the globe. The Full Moon Party originated amongst a group of backpackers, rumour has it, to celebrate someone’s birthday. Over decades, it has evolved to become a largely commercial gathering.
The party takes place on Haad Rin beach, which transforms from a peaceful and quiet white sand beach into a raucous and rather raunchy spectacle with each full moon, bringing up to 30,000 attendees. Stacks of speakers pulse with techno, house, rap, ambient and rock music, and it continues for hours to days, with several secondary parties taking place in and around Haad Rin.
Monthly Half Moon Festivals and Black Moon Parties also abound nowadays, so party animals and hedonists are never short on options. Half Moon Festivals are held the week after and before Full Moon Parties, and Black Moon Parties fall on mid-month nights, opposing full moons.
Lights Over China
China celebrates an annual Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day following Chinese New Year. Originating as far back as the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 25), the Lantern Festival has significance geared around the ‘declining darkness of winter’ and people’s again-enjoyed freedom to move about at night with man-made light, specifically, lanterns.
The variety of legends behind Lantern Festival’s use of lanterns runs wide, with tales of placating Taiyi, the god of heaven and creator of drought, storms and pestilence. Another legend evolves from pleasing the Taoist god of good fortune, Tianguan, with revelry and fun activities; and appeasing the Jade Emperor with lanterns, celebrations and explosive firecrackers.
In keeping with several legends that involves fooling angry gods with blazing lanterns to give the appearance of villages already ablaze, lanterns are lit for these and most festivals. The Lantern Festival’s significance is that it offers everyone, and children in particular, a positive ceremony to promote good lives.
Children fill the streets at night, going to temples, holding paper lanterns and solving riddles written on the lanterns. Although in the past, ornate lanterns were reserved for the Emperor and his noblemen, today’s lanterns are often graced with many intricate designs. Grown-ups also use the lanterns as symbols to release their old selves, repeated yearly for growth and success.
Korean Lights of Life
South Koreans celebrate Jeongwol Daeboreum (Great Full Moon Festival) to note the first full moon of the new year of the Korean lunar calendar cycle. Held each year on or around February 22, the celebration includes many long-held traditions.
Traditionally, people burned dry grass on the hills between rice fields, aided by children whirling around cans filled with charcoal embers. This process helped to fertilise the fields and rid future crops of pestilent worms.
One of the traditional foods to be eaten during Daeboreum is yaksik – composed of glutinous rice, pine nuts, honey, chestnuts, sesame oil and sauce. During Daeboreum people wish to hear only good news during the year by drinking ‘cheongju’, a clear, strained rice wine. Cheongju is also widely used in a variety of traditional rituals and rites of passage.
Singapore Special Moons
Deriving from traditional Chinese culture, the Baby Full Moon Party (or Baby Full Month Party) celebrates the first full month in the life of a baby.
The party held more importance in the past when infant mortality was higher. If a baby made it through the first key month following birth, it was likely to live and it merited a celebration. Although the event was traditionally held at home, modern parents may hold a banquet at a restaurant.
The key ingredients for Baby Full Moon party include the namesakes of the early name, ‘the red egg and ginger party’. The colour red symbolises blessings and good fortune and eggs are a nod to new life and fertility. Also usually included are red-tinged glutinous peanut cakes, ku kueh.
- Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan is fun but as is the case in any event where tens of thousands of people are gathered in one place, be mindful of yourself and others. Be aware of pickpockets and don’t accept drinks from people you don’t know or trust.
- Many cities will put on special events during lunar celebrations. Check with the local tourism authorities for up-to-date information on any events taking place.
- Lunar celebrations often coincide with national holidays so hotels and restaurants may experience higher occupancy. Book well in advance to avoid disappointment.