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Tet Nguyen Dan (Tet Festival)

The Tet Nguyen Dan (or Tet) festival originated in Vietnam. This festival starts on the first day of the first lunar month, and of the first season. The history of the Tet festival began long, long ago when man and the devil lived together on earth. The devil soon tricked man, and took over the earth. Buddha then made a deal with the devil. The devil lost the deal and was chased to the sea. The devil prayed to Buddha so that they may return to the land to visit their ancestor's tomb for 3 days.

The reason the Vietnamese savour this holiday is because it the longest time for rest, parties and tradition. During the week before Tet some families visit their ancestor's graves and pay their respects, and burn incense to welcome the spirits back to the family home.

Before the New Year 's Eve new items and clothes are bought and old bills are paid. Traditionally people believe that not paying outstanding bills could bring bad luck for the new year, while buying new clothes would make it possible for their families to be able to afford new clothes in the coming year. Small changes can be given to children or elderly people as a way to express the guests' wishes of happiness and prosperity.

Throughout the Festival relatives and friends visit each other. The first visit on the first day of the new year is viewed by many as the most significant. Because the hosts believe that the guests' characters or achievements would be 'expanded' to theirs. Hence, people even negotiate before the New Year's Eve who should visit who. The 'expected visitors' often arrive early enough to ensure that the 'game' is played as planed. If you are not sure of who your host expects, just hold back and wait until afternoon or later for someone to arrive first.

Among many special dishes prepared for Tet Nguyen Dan there is the sticky rice cakes that the Vietnamese savour. The Vietnamese sticky rice cake has existed as long as the country herself.

Legend has it that emperor Hung-Vuong of the Van Lang kingdom had many sons. Some pursued literary careers. Others excelled in martial arts. The youngest prince named Tiet - Lieu, however, loved neither. Instead, he and his wife and their children chose the countryside where they farmed the land.

One day, toward the end of the year, the emperor met with all his sons. He told them whoever brought him the most special and unusual food would be made the new emperor. Almost immediately, the princes left for their homes and started looking for the most delicious food to offer the emperor. Some went hunting in the forests and brought home birds and animals which they prepared into the most palatable dishes. Some others sailed out to the open sea, trying to catch fish, lobsters and other much loved sea food. Neither the rough sea nor the violent weather could stop them from looking for the best gifts to please the emperor.


Traditional Play during the Tet Festival

In his search, Tiet-Lieu went back to the countryside. He saw that the rice in his paddy fields was ripe and ready to be harvested, Walking by a glutinous rice field, he picked some golden grains on a long stalk. He brought them close to his nose and he could smell a delicate aroma.

His entire family then set out to harvest the rice, Tiet-Lieu himself ground the glutinous rice grains into fine flour. His wife mixed it with water into a soft paste. His children helped by building a fire and wrapping the cakes with leaves. In no time, they finished, and in front of them lay two kinds of cakes: one was round and the other was square in shape.

The round cake was made with glutinous rice dough and was called "banh day" by Tiet-Lieu. He named the square shaped cake "banh chung" which he made with rice, green beans wrapped in leaves. Everybody was extremely happy with the new kind of cakes.

On the first day of Spring, the princes took the gifts of their labor and love to the emperor. One carried a delicious dish of steamed fish and mushrooms. Another brought with him a roasted peacock and some lobsters. All the food was beautifully cooked.
When it was Tiet-Lieu's turn to present his gifts, he carried the "banh chung" and his wife carried the "banh day" to the emperor. Seeing Tiet-Lieu's simple offerings, other princes sneered at them. But after tasting all the food brought to court by his sons, the emperor decided that the first prize should be awarded to Tiet-Lieu.

The emperor then said that his youngest son's gifts were not only the purest, but also the most meaningful because Tiet-Lieu had used nothing except rice which was the basic foodstuff of the people to make them. The emperor gave up the throne and make Tiet-Lieu the new emperor. All the other princes bowed to show respect and congratulated the new emperor.

Huong Pagoda Festival

Without doubt the Festival is the most famous Buddhist pilgrimage site in northern Vietnam. Simply because in the festival, people can beseech wishes and have chances of admiring the wonderful scenery of the Huong Pagoda. The festival is opened in My Duc district, northern Ha Tay province, on January 29, the sixth day of the first lunar month.

The Huong Pagoda Festival allows pilgrims to sightsee pagodas, temples and caves as well as ceremonies to beseech favours from Buddha.

The Festival officially starts on February 15 (lunar year), but the Pagoda has been lively with a big number of visitors from January 15 to mid-March. Ben Duc, the river gate to the Pagoda, is crowded with boats and people. As a rule, pilgrims and visitors from all parts of the country, whether acquainted to one another or otherwise, greet everyone by saying "A Di Da Phat". These words mean, "We beg Lord Buddha to give us health and luck".

The festival, lasting through three spring months, attracts hundreds of thousands of Buddhist pilgrims and tourists from all parts of the country and overseas Vietnamese. Visitors come to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the Huong Son lime mountains at the time apricot forests are blossoming and to pay their tribute to Avalokitasvara, one of Buddha's disciples.

Legend has it that a princess by the name of Dieu Thien incarnated Avalokitasvara and attained Enlightenment there. As the princess was born on the 19th day of the second lunar month, that date is now observed by all Buddhists of Vietnam as the Buddhist Saint Day besides Buddha's birthday on the 8th day of the fourth month. The shrine in which she had practiced her religion was discovered in the 15th century by three monks.

However, it was not until 1687 when the Superior Bonze Tran Dao Vien Quang came here that Huong Son (Perfume Mountain) was transformed into a major Buddhist sanctuary and the greatest worshipping place of all Buddhists in Vietnam. The Vietnamese believe that Huong Son is Buddha's Heaven. People conduct a dragon dance in the yard of Trinh Pagoda, and sail the royal barge on the 6th day of the 1st month.

Huong Pagoda Festival

The festival begins formally by what is called the ceremony to 'open the forest' at the Ngu Nhac temple, the first stop on the road leading to the main pagoda which lies on a high mountain. Although one may use a land road to reach the main pagoda, most pilgrims today prefer a boat trip along the stream meandering between two rows of mountains to contemplate the beauty of the scenery which can hardly be found anywhere else. Archaeologists have found in several caves on the Huong Son mountain range indisputable evidences of the presence of early man.

The fairylike scenery of Huong Son has been a source of inexhaustible inspiration for many poets, writers and composers. Chu Manh Trinh, a well-known poet in the 19th century, wrote:


"Under the sky is the landscape of Buddha,
The joy of visiting Huong Son is the dream for everyone
Look! The mountains, the water, the clouds,
People wonder, is here the land of fairies?"


The festival is held in three places, Huong Tich, Tuyet Son, and Long Van. It becomes most crowded from the 15th - 20th day of the 2nd month in lunar calendar as this period marks the main festival. The path leading from Ngoai Pagoda to Trong Pagoda is usually full of visitors coming up and down the mountain.


Trung Thu Festival (Tet Trung Thu)

Tet Trung Thu, as it is known in Vietnam, or the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival as Westerners refer to it in Europe or America, is a wonderful, ancient festival that revolves around children.

The Festival dates back as far as 15-20,000 years ago in Southeast Asia, and is traditionally held on the 15th day of the 8th Lunar Month. This year, the date of the Festival is September 2, the same day as the full moon. The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is one of the two most popular festivals in Vietnam, and has been important to families in Vietnam for many years.

It is said that originally, the Festival came about as a way for parents to make up for lost time with their children after harvest season. The harvest was done by September, (August in the Lunar calendar) and the parents were anxious to spend time with their children and do something special with them, as well as celebrate the harvest, after spending much time working hard and away from the family. It was held under the full moon, which represents fullness and prosperity of life.

A favourite folklore on Tet Trung Thu is about a carp that wanted to become a dragon. The carp worked and worked and eventually transformed itself into a dragon. This is the story behind the mythical symbol, Ca hoa Rong. Parents use this story to encourage their children to work hard so that they can become whatever they want to be.

There's also a story about how the Moon Lady ascended to the moon. A man named Chu Cuoi found a lucky tree that had special healing powers. Because this tree was sacred, people were forbidden to urinate at the foot of this tree. Unfortunately, Chu Cuoi's wife, Mrs Hang forgot the rule and urinated on the tree. On day, while she was sitting on the tree's branch, the tree started to grow and grow. Eventually, it reached the moon. Since then, Chi Hang lived on the moon for the rest of her life as a punishment for desecrating the sacred tree.


The festival is very much like a combination of Western Halloween and Thanksgiving. Children parade on the streets, while singing and carrying colourful lanterns of different sizes. Some of the popular shapes include fishes, stars, butterflies and a lantern that spins when a candle is inserted, representing the earth circling the sun. Dances are also traditional, and include the dragon dance and the flower dance.

It is customary to give Banh Trung Thu, boxes of moon cakes, which are traditionally very rich in taste. The cakes are filled with lotus seeds, ground beans and orange peels and have a bright yoke in the center to represent the moon.
Today, the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, as well as encouraging affection for children, promotes education, poetry, dance and arts.