HUNG NGUYEN MANH1
“Competing with one another to hug the communal house’s column”. However, it’s not true that all the villages are afraid of “ants and devils”, but some among them materialize a number of active customs and habits depending on their historical situations or their cultural characteristics just like at the communal house of Đông Kỵ (Bắc Ninh) every year, right at the transitional hour while the altar is flooded with incense-smoke, four old men representing the four hamlets rush out competing with one another to hug the communal house’s column to vie in strength with one another. This custom survives from the form of recruitment of troops of King Thiên Cương, aimed at mobilizing all forces to liberate the country like Saint Gióng fighting against the Ân invaders.
The custom of “Moving the Hut”
Commemorating the victory over the Ân invaders (under the reign of King Hùng Vương the 6th), people at the communal house of Phong Doanh Village (Bình Dương, Tam Đảo, Vĩnh Phúc) beat drums and gongs urging everybody to rush to the village’s roads leading to a place called “Mô nhà chòi?” (the hut’s mound). This custom is proceeded with at dawn and is called “moving the hut”. Besides, we have also found another original custom observed on lunar New Year’s eve, namely the custom of “putting characters to the sword”.
Ants and Devils
We are shown a woman sitting before a frying-pan and frying something with a pair of chopsticks. The letters in Nôm script let us know more. On the eve of Tết people fry ants to chase ants away in the new year. This custom no longer exists. In the collection of customs and habits in the plain region of North Vietnam, we have found a folksong accompanied by gestures showing the action of putting the cauldron on the range to roast, so as to prevent the ants to come in force into the kitchen:
I roat Mr.Ant
Kính Kiến Kình Cang (untranslatable onomatopoeic verse)
I roat Mr. Ant I roast the whole Ants’ village
Kính Kiến Kình Cang (untranslatable onomatopoeic verse)
In the last days of the year, some old people dare not stay at home and go to pagodas or temples. They wait there until the new year’s eve (the transitional hour) to go back home. Because they believe that there exists a kind of devil named “Vũ Tuần” that used to strangle them notwithstanding their sex. People call the three last days of the year – the three deathly days.2
The last Images
On the last day of the year, H. OGER and his painter try to record the last images. In the streets, people walk hastily as if they run after the remaining minutes. A bare-footed villager with an umbrella carries a sugarcane on his shoulder – a stick as an offering to his ancestors. A woman brings her offerings to a pagoda. She is a servant as indicated by H. OGER.
To whom does that swing belong (Fig.1)? No! It is made on the village council’s order by the village guards. Clothes are still being dried at the roof top (Fig.2). They have to be removed immediately.
On the 30th of the last lunar month – the last day of the last lunar month of the lunar year – a day that caused people to feel excited and animated, seeming to await for a great event about to occur in their life. There is only one day left, while in the family, everything and every problems in the family big or small far or close, ordinary or important must be solved or temporarily stopped. In the North, people usually have to round off their task of planting the Tết pole at noon, in Central Vietnam, that task must be completed in the afternoon, while in the South, it must be finished from dusk to the evening. According to the old habits, once the Tết pole is planted, people must prepare to invite their ancestors to come back to enjoy Tết with them (just like at Kẻ Rị, Kẻ Chè, Đông Sơn District, Thanh Hoá).
At this time, the ancestors’ altar must be in apple-pie order before proceeding with the ceremony to invite one’s ancestors to come back to enjoy the 3 Tết days with their offsprings. After the inviting ceremony when the incense-sticks are burned out, the tray of dishes used as offerings is taken down and the whole family gather together around this cosy and solemn meal. With regard to Confucian families, this meal at the year end bears the substance of preserving the beautiful and noble tradition.
In North Vietnam, the ancestors greeting ceremony may be celebrated in two manners:
1) Display the offerings on the altar, light candle, offer incense and start worshipping at noon of the 30th of the last lunar month (i.e. at 12:00 am). The greeting ceremony is organized only at home, people do not go to the graves. The family head, neatly dressed, stands in front of the altar, lights a new bunch of incense sticks and prays :
“Vietnam, lunar year (Ất Mão, Mậu Thân…) month… winter-tide, the 30th of the 12th lunar month. I’m…, in charge of worshipping, born at village…, district…., province… along with all members of the family kowtow one hundred times.”
We respectfully offer incense-sticks, gold and silver joss paper ingots, fruits, festive dishes, alcohol and water, betel and areca-nut and all other things. To respectfully invite all our ancestors, great-great-grandparent, great-grandparent, grandparent, father, mother, uncle, brother, sister, cousin, to come back to witness our fervour. We dare hope that: Our ancestors shall protect our family, from old to young people, and shall bestow on them happiness, safety, peace, and shall make everything go smoothly with more family members and much prosperity. Please come up and enjoy our offerings.3
After praying, the family head withdraws, ceding his place for each one of the family, members to pray in turn and accordingly to his or her rank in the family the older persons first then comes the turn of the younger ones the village customs (Đáp Cầu Village, Bắc Ninh) and complying with the significance of the Greeting Ceremony. In the afternoon of the 30th of the 12th lunar month, the family head and all other members of his family bring picks and shovels along with joss paper things and incense to their ancestors’ graves to clear out the grass (preventing its roots to thrust at the coffin and knock against the remains), embank the graves and make them clean and neat. Then the whole family light a bunch of incense sticks, pray, then plant the whole bunch on the graves. The prayers are aimed at expressing the offsprings’ fervour in inviting the ancestors to come back and enjoy Spring with them.
While worshiping the ancestors, the family head orders people to dig a hole in the courtyard to plant the Tết pole. They sprinkle powdered lime at the foot of the pole in the shapes of a bow and an arrow to aim at the evil spirits prying about outside, preventing them to enter the house. After greeting people still have to wait until the incense-sticks burn out to bring down the tray festive dishes; then, the whole family gather around it to cosily and solemnly enjoy the meal on the eve of the lunar (Fig.3). New Year, a significant one, filled with the satisfaction of having observed the right principle. The image of such a 30th of the 12th lunar month or the 30th of Tết does not belong to everybody’s families, as there exist many different sad situations such as separations among children, heaping debts, more laments than laughs… People in days of yore used to say :
“One‘s intelligence can be proven only when one goes to law.
One’s wealths can be shown only on the 30th of Tết (30th of the 12th lunar month).
… continue in section 2…
1 Associate Professor HUNG NGUYEN MANH, Doctor of Phylosophy in History.
2 According to JOSEPH TISSANIER – A Frenchman living in Thăng Long from 1658 – 1663 – who spent five Tết in Tonquin.
3 According to TOAN ÁNH – Beliefs in Vietnam – Book 2 – Nam Chi Publishing House – Saigon 1968.
BAN TU THU
◊ Source: Vietnamese Lunar New Year – Major Festival – Asso. Prof. HUNG NGUYEN MANH, Doctor of Phylosophy in History.
◊ Bold text and sepia images has been set by Ban Tu Thu – thanhdiavietnamnhoc.com
◊ From Sketches in early 20th century to traditional rituals and festival.
◊ Signification of the term “Tết”
◊ Lunar New Year Festival
◊ Concerns of PROVIDENT PEOPLE – Concerns for KITCHEN and CAKES
◊ Concerns of PROVIDENT PEOPLE – Concerns for MARKETING – Section 1
◊ Concerns of PROVIDENT PEOPLE – Concerns for MARKETING – Section 2
◊ Concerns of PROVIDENT PEOPLE – Concerns for Dept payment
◊ In SOUTHERN PART of the COUNTRY: a HOST of PARALLEL CONCERNS
◊ The tray of Five fruits
◊ The Arrival of New Year
◊ SPRING SCROLLS – Section 1
◊ The Cult of The Deities of the Kitchen – Section 1
◊ The Cult of The Deities of the Kitchen – Section 2
◊ The Cult of The Deities of the Kitchen – Section 3
◊ Waiting for the NEW YEAR – Section 2
◊ Vietnam Lunar New Year – vi-VersiGoo