Festivals in Vietnam
Vietnam is a beautiful country with a rich and exotic culture. Vietnam people with vibrant culture celebrate various festivals and events with great fun and fanfare.
Festivals and events form an important part of the Vietnamese culture. For generations festivals have been an important cultural activity of the Vietnamese people. Master Pagoda is an important festival and event of Vietnam with puppet shows being the main highlight. Most of the festivals and events of Vietnam are dedicated to the natural powers like rain, cloud, lighting etc.
Besides, the foot tapping drumbeats and traditional music create an atmosphere of joy and enthusiasm in these festivals. Vietnam festivals and events are also marked by the remembrance of the national heroes and various religious ceremonies. Festivals in Vietnam are the occasion to dress beautifully and show their customs and habits. This is the time when one can witness social encounters and springing up of new relationships.
LUNAR NEW YEAR ( TET )
Tet – Vietnamese and Chinese Lunar New Year, is the most important Festival of Vietnamese people. This scared Festival sometime between late January or early February (depend on Lunar Calendar ) and Tet has become so familiar to the Vietnamese that when Spring arrives, the Vietnamese, wherever they may be, are all thrilled and excited with the advent of Tet, and they feel an immense nostalgia, wishing to come back to their homeland for a family reunion and a taste of the particular flavors of the Vietnamese festivities.
Although officially a three-day affair, festivities may continue for a week or more with every effort made to indulge in eating, drinking, and enjoyable social activities. It is also a time for family reunions, and for paying respect to ancestors and the elders. Gifts of food are made to friends, neighbors and relatives in the days before Tet.
THE “MAM NGU QUA”
The “five-fruit tray” on the ancestral altar during the Tet Holidays symbolizes the admiration and gratitude of the Vietnamese to Heaven and Earth and their ancestors, and demonstrates their aspiration for a life of plenty. Legend said aboot of theories but in a simpler way, the five fruits represent the quintessence that Heaven and Earth bless humans. This is one of the general perceptions of life of the Vietnamese, which is “When taking fruit, you should think of the grower”.
DAO, MAI, QUAT (the Peach, Apricot and Kumquat)
Coming to Vietnam during the season of the Tet festival, the visitor is engulfed in an ocean of colorful flowers. Visiting flower shows, contemplating the buds and blooms, and purchasing blossoms represents one of the distinct Vietnamese cultural characteristics. The peach ( in the North ) and the apricot blossoms (in the South) are symbols of the Vietnamese Tet. The warm pink of the peach could very well match the dry cold of the North, but the hot South seems to be flourishing in the riot of the yellow of the apricot. The mandarin is symbolic of good fortune and, therefore, people tend to choose the little plants laden with fruit, big and orange, and verdant leaves for a longer display.
THE GIAO THUA ( New Year’s eve)
The Giao Thua is the most sacred point of time, the passage from the old to the new year. It is popularly believed that in Heaven there are twelve Highness in charge of monitoring and controlling the affairs on earth, each of them taking charge of one year. The giao thua is the moment of seeing off the old chieftain upon the conclusion of his term and welcoming in the new one upon his assumption of office. For this reason, every home makes offerings in the open air to pray for a good new year.
After the giao thua is the start of the new year with many customs and practices, amusements and entertainment, all of a distinct Vietnamese folk culture. If you have an opportunity to visit Vietnam during the Tet Holidays and to welcome the Tet Festivities, together with the Vietnamese people, you will surely be profoundly impressed by the distinct traditional culture that is rich in national identity.
FOOD SPECIALTIES FOR TET
On the last day of the old year, the preparation of food to offer to the ancestors is of special significance. Dishes to offer to the ancestors differ in the Northern, Central and Southern parts of the country, depending on their respective weather conditions at the time and on different local agricultural products available. What is common in all regions of the country during Tet holidays are the varieties of soups, fried, boiled, or stewed dishes, meat, fish, vegetable… The foods that the Vietnamese eat at Tet are varied and diverse What they have in common is that the people throughout the country all want to have the best and the most beautiful looking food on this occasion to offer their ancestors and to treat their friends and guests.
The Lim Festival, organized in Lim village located 18 km from Hanoi, where Quan Ho, the special folk songs performed. It takes place every year on 13th day of the 1st lunar month. Tens of thousands of visitors come here to enjoy the dialogues performances between “lien anh” (male singers) and “lien chi” (female singers), the country’s most skilled Quan Ho singers. These are male and female farmers who sing different types of songs in the pagodas, on the hills, and in the boats. Besides this, visitors can come to the Lim Festival to enjoy the weaving competition of the Noi Due girls. They weave and sing Quan Ho songs at the same time. Like other religious festivals, the Lim Festival goes through all the ritual stages, from the procession to the worshipping ceremony, and includes other activities.
The Lim Festival is a special cultural activity in the North. The festival celebrates the “Quan Ho” folk song which has become a part of the national culture and a typical folk song that is well loved in the Red River Delta region.
CAU NGU FESTIVAL
This festival of lower Thai Duong Village in Huong Hai Commune of Huong Dien District is organized annually on the 12th day of the 1st lunar month in memory of the village tutelary genie Truong Quy Cong. His alias is Truong Thieu, and he was a native of the North who came to the village to settle, teach the locals how to fish, and trade junks.
On the eve of the festival, the entire village begins making offerings. Both parts of the village, the upper and lower parts, worship to Truong Quy Cong. Late at night, the “fish worshipping ceremony ” occurs, where people pray for peace and the future abundance of fish.
NUI BA FESTIVAL
If you go to Tay Ninh, you should visit Nui Ba, a beautiful mountain located in the middle of the Mekong Delta, 11km from downtown Tay Ninh. Nui Ba (Ba Mountain) is often called Ms. Den Mountain. According to a legend, the mountain was named after a young woman called Denh, but who was referred to as Den. She was the devout daughter of a guard officer of the Mien ethnic minority group. Den left her house to enter a monastery in the mountains. She became a nun due to family pressure to marry a guard officer’s son from the Trang Bang Area. She remained at the monastery until she died. After her death, the Nguyen Dynasty ordered that a mould of her be cast in black bronze in her honour as the Linh Son Thanh Mau ( Saint Linh Son).
During the spring until the afternoon of the 30th day of the 1st lunar month, and especially on the day of the full moon of the first month, tourists from Ho Chi Minh City and the provinces of the south pilgrimage to worship and sightsee. Starting at the bottom of the mountain, tourists climb one half of the mountain to Saint Linh Son’s communal house and then follow a path that leads to a pagoda. This pagoda offers vegetarian meals.
PERFUME PAGODA ( HUONG TICH) FESTIVAL
The Perfume Pagoda (Huong Tich), At My Duc, 69km south of Hanoi, without doubt, is the most famous Buddhist pilgrimage site in northern Vietnam. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims travel to this sacred cave to pray for happiness and prosperity in the coming year. pilgrims board boats, usually rowed by young women, which carry them along the Yen Stream through a stunning landscape of blazing green rice paddles studded with jagged limestone mounts to the base of Huong Mountain. From the riverbank, pilgrims proceed on foot, past various ancient pagodas, monasteries and shrines, up hundreds of stone steps and a switchback trail, all worn smooth by the passage of countless feet. The Perfume Pagoda consists of a group of caves and is an impressive architectural ensemble of both human and natural endeavor.
The Perfume Pagoda Festival lasts from the 6th day of the 1st month to the end of the 3rd month of the lunar calendar. Visitors can get tot the Perfume Pagoda either by the inland road or by water way. The Vietnamese believe that Huong Son is Buddha’s Heaven. Huong Son is considered the place to worship Brodhisattva Kwan Yin.
COW RACING FESTIVAL
Each year on the last day of the Khmer calendar, the Khmer, an ethnic minority group living in the Mekong delta province of An Giang, hold a festival to honor their ancestors. The festival begins with a visit to the pagoda, where Khmer families invite the souls of their ancestors to dine with the living. Should any visitors appear during the festival they will be warmly received since the Khmer believe that guests who arrive around New Year are messengers sent by their ancestors.
Following a visit to the pagoda people walk to the nearest stream or river where they tie the trunks of banana trees together to form rafts. Offerings are placed on these rafts, which are then pushed into the water to be swept away by the current.
These quiet ceremonies are sharp contrast to the highlight of the festival, a cow race. The racetrack, set in a muddy and slippery paddy field, is 120m long, with both the start and finish lines marked with red and green flags. Each race involves two pairs of cow, controlled by two young men. To further complicate their task, the teams must run in a straight line and will be disqualified for veering off course.
The races are both exciting and hilarious. People travel from miles for the show, bringing food and pots and pans for a picnic. Part rodeo, part race and part comedy, a Khmer cow race is an unforgettable spectacle.
HUNG TEMPLE FESTIVAL
Hung temple is located on Nghia Linh Mountain, Hy Lang Commune, Phong Chau District, Phu Tho Province. Every year, this national festival is held to worship the Hung Kings, who were instrumental in founding the nation.
The festival lasts for 3 days from the 9th to the 11th of the 3rd lunar month. The worship service is held on the 10th day and commences with a flower ceremony with the participation of state representatives. Held in Thuong Temple, where the Hung Kings used to worship deities with full rituals, the ceremony consists of a lavish five-fruit feast. Cakes and glutinous rice dumpling are also served to remind people of the Lang Lieu Legend (the 18th Hung King who invented these cakes), and the merit of the Hung Kings who taught people to grow rice.
CHU DONG TU FESTIVAL
This festival occurs for three days from the 10th – 12th of the third lunar month in Chu Dong Tu Temple in Du Hoa Village, Chau Giang District, Hung Yen province, some 20 km from Hanoi.
Saint Chu Dong Tu was one of the “four immortal heroes” at the center of Vietnamese society. Chu Dong Tu was a cultural hero and the founder of agriculture because he conquered the marsh and developed agriculture and trade. After the opening ceremony, there is a procession to remind people of the legend, life, and work of Saint Chu Dong Tu and his two wives.
LE MAT SNAKE FESTIVAL
Le Mat Village belongs to the Viet Hung Commune, Gia Lam District, Hanoi. The Le Mat Village Festival is held annually on the 23rd of the 3rd lunar month. In the early morning on the 23rd day of the 3rd month, representatives of the 13 camps to the west of the Ancient Capital of Thang Long carry 13 trays of food over their heads from the capital to the Le Mat Village.
At the beginning of the festival, water and carp processions are staged and brought to the Thanh Communal House. This ritual reminds the present generation of the heroic accomplishments of exploiting and bringing about agriculture to the village. A snake act is then performed in the yard of the communal house. The snake (made of bamboo taped with cloth) symbolizes the water-monster species that has been bitten by the power and will of youth. The music of this act is an octet and the sound of the drummer’s double rhythm is haunting. The Le Mat Village Festival provides an opportunity for children in the village, and those who have reclaimed this ancient wasteland in the city, to meet and retell the history of the establishment of the village. The challenge and difficulty that was encountered in the establishment of the village is expressed in the sincere homage of the ancestors of the village.
The Whale Festival has been, for centuries, the biggest water festival of the fishermen in Quang Nam, Danang province. The worshipping of the whale is not only about paying respect to their God, but also about ensuring prosperity for the villagers. This festival last for two days in the middle of the 3rd lunar month. On this occasion, the whale temple, as well as all the houses and boats, are beautifully decorated. The peace offering is conducted in the first evening at the whale temple by village elders. Offerings, which do not contain seafoods, are given while the oration is read out. The ceremony is held to respect the Whale God and to pray for the safety and prosperity of the village. At dawn the following day, there will be a procession of boats on the sea in a set formation. This procession displays the sincerity of fishermen to their Whale God.
ELEPHANT RACE FESTIVAL
This festival is held in the spring, around the 3rd month of the lunar calendar. It is usually held in Don Village or in forests near the Sevepoi River (Dac Lak). The race track is on even ground where there are only has a few big trees. The width of the track is large enough for 10 elephants to stand in a line at the same time and the length of the track runs 1-2 km.
With the signal of the horn (a wind instrument), the mahouts command their elephants to go to the starting line. When the command to start the race is released, all of the elephants rush ahead, excited by the sound of the drums, gongs, and cheering from the viewers. At the end of the race, the winning elephants lift their trunks above their heads to wave to the viewers. They walk deliberately flapping their ears gently, gazing through half-closed eyes to receive sugarcane from their viewers.
BA CHUA XU FESTIVAL
Sam mountain is located 5 kilometers from the town of Chau Doc in An Giang province. This mountain is the centre of a complex of historical sites such as the old Tay An Pagoda, the Ba Chua Xu Shrine, the Hang Pagoda, and the Imperial Tomb of Thoai Ngoc Hau.
The festival of Ba Chua Xu (also called the Via Ba Ceremony) is held annually from the 23rd night to the 27th day of the 4th lunar month. To go to the festival, head along Road No.10 from Long Xuyen to Chau Doc. Sam Mountain is 5 kilometers away from Chau Doc. Also, one can take the waterway from Can Tho to Soc Trang, or from Saigon directly.
On the night of April 23rd, there is a bathing and changing of robes ceremony for the statue of Ba Chua. The bathing water is scented and Ba Chua’s old clothes are cut into small pieces to distribute to visitors and pilgrims. The small pieces of clothes are considered lucky, keeping one in good health and driving away evil spirits.
The Giong Festival is held annually in Phu Dong Village, Gia Lam District, Hanoi.
This large festival is held on the 9th day of the 4th month of the lunar calendar. The date commemorates Saint Giong who defeated the An invaders. In order to show their gratitude to the hero of Giong Village who sacrificed his life to fight invaders, the people proclaimed him Saint Giong.
Preparation for the festival occurs from the 1st day of the 3rd lunar month to the 5th day of the 4th lunar month. The procession starts from the Mother Temple to Thuong Temple with the performance of a religious service. After reaching the temple, a feast for the troops occurs. When night falls, a Cheo play is performed (a classical Vietnamese opera). The festivities ends on the 10th day of the 4th month, as the troops withdraw and a thanksgiving procession takes place.
JUNE – JULY
CHEM TEMPLE FESTIVAL
Chem Temple is situated 12km from the center of Hanoi. Chem Temple Festival is a big festival in the area of former Hanoi only after Co Loa and Dong festivals. It involves: water procession consists of 3 dragon boats on the Hong River, votive paper procession, moc duc ceremony (god’s statue washing), royal order procession, worshipping Buddha and traditional folk games: tug-of-war, kite flying, pigeons releasing, trai racing between villages in the region.
TRA CO VILLAGE FESTIVAL
Tra Co Communal House was built in 1511 with unique architectural style of the later Le Dynasty. The structure was dedicated to tutelary genies of the village. It’s a historical relic that is typical for village culture of Vietnam in feudal period. The communal house is now in well-condition.
Tra Co Festival is an occasion to memorize tutelary genies of the village and wish the best for the village. At the beginning of Tra Co Festival is the ritual procession. After the procession, there are many fun activities for entertainment such as the fattest pig competition, cooking contest and dance. In the fattest pig competition, who own the fattest pig will won the first prize. The pigs joining the competition are called “Ong Voi” (Mr. Elephant). This traditional competition aims at encouraging breeding and agriculture. Besides, there is a cooking contest with the attendance of talented cooks in the village. Finally, the festival ends with a traditional dance which prays for peace and wealth to the village.
HONCHEN TEMPLE FESTIVAL
The Hon Chen Temple Festival is organized twice every year in the 3rd and the 7th lunar months. The festival takes place at the Hon Chen temple, 10 km west of Hue. It starts with a procession referred to as the God Welcoming ceremony, said to bring all the worshipped Gods from the village temples and shrines to the communal house where various rituals are performed, including the procession in honour of Saint Mother Thien Y A Na. The procession takes place at night on the Perfume River, which shines with a myriad of lights. The procession ivolves a long line of boats bound together into bigger rafts.
The Hon Chen Temple Festival includes a performance filled with imperial characters. Actors dressed in clothes with splendid turbans and tunics look like princes and princesses of the Nguyen dynasty. These shows take place in the natural settings of mountains, hills, and rivers. This Antique Museum of Nature shows flags, fans, hammocks, umbrellas, weapons, and offerings.
For a long time, Vietnam and some other Asian countries who follow the rite of worshipping the Moon Genie, welcome the Mid-Autumn Festival on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. This is the time when the moon is full, the farm work is at rest, and the weather is cool and fresh. Apart from the Lunar New Year, the Mid-Autumn Festival is the most impressive event for the Vietnamese, particularly the children. There is no other event in the year other than this festival that provides them with as much entertainment, toys, cakes, candies, and fruit.
About half a month before the event, various kinds of colorful items, mostly cakes, candies and toys, are displayed for sale along the streets, in the shops and at the markets. Everyone, both domestic and foreign, is eager to go either shopping or sight-seeing. On the festive day, some families cook outstanding food to offer their ancestors during the daytime. In the evening, the mid-autumn festive party is prepared with cakes, candies and fruits. Cakes are various, but a “must” is the banh deo (glutinous-rice dumplings) and banh nuong (cakes) in the shape of the moon and fish. Fruit , including longans, simmons, bananas, grapefruits, etc., are also abundant and diverse.
The welcome-the-moon party in the evening is a good opportunity for the children not only to enjoy the food, but also to learn more from their grandparents and parents. They are told how to prepare the party in the most attractive way. To decorate the party, there is always a “doctor” made of paper or dough, which reminds the children of the high achievements to be obtained in their studies. The time to start enjoying the party is solemnly shared by the whole family and becomes the most sacred moment of the Mid-Autumn Festival. In the bright moonlight, clear sky and fresh environment, everybody is relaxed with a pure and detached joy.
DOSON BUFFALO FIGHTING FESTIVAL
The Buffalo Fight in Do Son (Haiphong City) is officially held every year on the 9th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. There are, in fact, two rounds of elimination before the middle of the 5th month and 8th day of the 6th lunar month.
The preparation for this festival is very elaborate. Fighting buffaloes must be carefully selected, well fed, and trained. These buffaloes must be between 4 and 5 years old, with a good appearance, a wide chest, a big groin, a long neck, an acute bottom, and bow shaped horns. The fighting buffaloes are fed in separate cages to keep them from contact with common buffaloes.
KIEP BAC FESTIVAL
The Kiep Bac Temple, where people come to worship Tran Quoc Tuan, the main general of the Tran Dynasty, is located in Hung Dao Commune, Chi Linh District, Hai Duong Province. Tran Quoc Tuan was the general who defeated the Chinese Nguyen-Mong invaders three times. Because of his merits to the nation, he was proclaimed a saint.
To get to Kiep Bac Temple from Hanoi City, take the National Highway that leads to the township of Bac Ninh (about 30 km). Then, go along National Highway No.18 that stretches from Bac Ninh to Pha Lai, and which eventually leads to Kiep Bac Temple. The Kiep Bac Temple Festival lasts from the 15th to 20th day of the 8th lunar month.
KEO PAGODA FESTIVAL
Keo Pagoda is located in Vu Nhat commune, Thai Binh province. This great pagoda was built as early as 17th century in honour of a monk whose name has been recorded in books: Duong Khong Lo. This man was originally a fisherman, then entered religion and attained Nirvana. He knew magic and once came to the capital to cure King Ly Thanh Tong so he was honored as the teacher of princes. He had Nghiem Quang Pagoda built and later renamed it Than Quang (Keo Pagoda).
The Keo Pagoda festival is annually held for three days, from 13th to 15th of the 9th lunar month to worship Buddhist Duong Khong Lo. He died on the 3rd of the sixth month, the festival of Keo Pagoda starts on the 13 of the 9th month, 100 days after his death. The 14th of the 9th lunar month is his birthday. The festival lasts one more day, through the 15th because it is the day in the middle of the lunar month, usually marked by Buddhists.
On the 13th, the festival begins with a procession to remind people of the anniversary of Buddhist Duong Khong Lo. Then a boat race and a competition of literary recitation are held in the afternoon. When the night falls, it is time for a trumpet and drum competition.
OC OM BOC FESTIVAL
The Oc Om Boc Festival is a religious service to worship the moon god of the Kho Me minority group. The festival is usually held on December 15th of the Buddhist Calendar, or in October following the Gregorian Calendar. At this religious festival, people thank the moon god who brings about good crops, provides abundant fish in the rivers, and maintains the health of human beings.
During the night of the full moon, as the moon appears, people prepare a feast in the front yard of the pagoda or in their houses. A plate of green rice flakes, ripe bananas, fresh peeled coconuts, mangoes and other dishes are served to the moon god.
NOVEMBER – DECEMBER
The Kate Festival is held annually by the Cham ethnic group who inhabit the An Phuoc District of Ninh Thuan Province. The Kate Festival ia held on the first ten days of the seventh month of the Cham Calendar (this corresponds with September or October). The Kate Festival is an occasion for the Cham people to express their venerability to their god. This god is considered the creator of the universe and is thought of as a national hero. During this festival, people go on a pilgrimage to the holy land of My Son and visit their friends and family.
On the last ten days of the sixth month of the Cham calendar, the Cham people bring precious gifts to their ancient Cham King. This ritual is held to thank their god beforehand and to ask for help in organizing the Kate Festival. At night, everyone from the villages gets together to see the ritual performances of the traditional costumes (Poh Akharao). This traditional dance performance is accompanied by the solemn Kapo music rhythms.
GHE NGO FESTIVAL
According to the Khmer people, the 15th day of the tenth lunar month marks the end of their year. Khmer people in Vietnam’s southern Mekong Delta celebrate this event with ceremonies, feasts and Ngo boat races. On the Khmer New Year’s Eve, villagers gather in the grounds of their local pagoda, in a treeless area. The moon is invited to watch the ceremonies, which begin with the construction of a bamboo archway, decorated with leaves and flowers. Beneath this arch stands a table on which villagers place offerings of bananas, coconuts, sweet potatoes, cassava and, most importantly, new sticky rice.
When the moon appears, an old man lights incense and candles and prays to the Moon Deity. Following this prayer, children kneel and raise their clasped hands to the moon. The host of the ceremony places chunks of sticky rice in the children’s mouths, pats them on the back and tells them to make a wish. These wishes are said to foreshadow the fate of the community in the coming year.
Following this ceremony, the festivities begin. Lantern-rockets, made of paper and powered by burning oil, careen into the air. Candles are lit and the dripping wax, collected on banana leaves, is used to predict the weather. Rafts made of banana leaves are released on canals. And like at all successful festivals, the rice wine flows freely.
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