HUNG NGUYEN MANH1
This is because the booming of crackers brings about a sense of joy, happiness and enlivening for the Vietnamese. For that reason, people also fire crackers on occasions such as entertainments, weddings and mournings.
However, one can be sure that this custom also bears a superstitious nature:
An old story, recorded in the work entitled “Kinh sở tuế thời ký” (Calendar of the Kinh Sở land), reads as follows: The evil spirits and ghosts on the mountains like to take possession of the bodies of living persons. They create several dangerous illnesses, often engendering deaths, but they are quite afraid of the boom of crackers. Therefore, one needs only fire a lot of crackers to rout them. This old story was told to us by an old Confucian scholar, but we feel that we ought to give it a further study, as it’s still the subject of many debates2.
SƠN THẢO Devil
Legend has it that in the past there was a devil called Sơn Thảo which used to disturb men on the first day of the year. As devils fear explosions, people got ready bamboo tubes with knots at both ends and pour water into them through pierced holes then stop the latter. When the new year begins, they light a fire in front of their houses and throw the tubes into it. The water boils and the tubes explode Sơn Thảo flees. Later on, with the invention of gunpowder, the firecracker is rolled with many layers of bamboo string and receives a firing cap which causes a big explosion when burnt. The devil flees still farther.
From that time on, people have adopted the custom of lighting firecrackers on the new year eve, at the transitional hour. Nowadays, that holy significance is almost lost, only the one of sending off the old and greeting the new year still remains. The custom of setting off firecrackers is a common one.
Firecrackers are Tết and Tết is firecrackers. Toward the beginning of the century, we still saw the shape of firecracker fuse, produced by the Quảng An shop, bearing, the four words “Liên thăng báo hỉ”(set off to announce a goods news) (Fig.1). We no longer see the type of firecracker made at Thị Cầu village.
This type of firecracker has its fuse inserted at the middle of its body and is also called candle. This village has the custom of organizing a competition for setting off firecrackers. A huge firecracker is hung on a flag-pole, the villagers use the candle firecrackers, they make themselves with two kinds of fire-catching paper, to throw up, trying to set off the huge firecracker. The one who succeeds to set the huge firecracker is the winner.
But, there were years where it was not so easy to win the prize and the festival organizer had to set it off with a josstick.
The Mường people at Hoà Bình province in the Northern midland – have the custom of firing the “tụ” i.e a kind of cannon at the transitional hour a custom called firing “chàng tịch” instead of setting of firecrackers…
Besides Thị Cầu, there are also a number of other places that can produce their own firecrackers such as Bình Đà (Hà Tây), Đồng Kỵ (Bắc Ninh). The firing of crackers is quite ostentatious with all kinds of firecrackers bearing quite funny names. Apart from the kinds bearing names such as big, small, short, long, vertical, horizontal, there are also the ones called “đùng” (boom) firecrackers, “tép” (tiny) firecrackers, “vịt” (duck) firecrackers, “cây” (column) firecrackers, “thăng thiên” (rocket) firecrackers, “cói” (mortar) firecrackers,“trúc” yellow bamboo) firecrackers…
Particularly, in the Nghệ An, Hà Tĩnh Region in addition to firing crackers, they are also firing the “lói” (bombard) firecrackers which make so big a boom that domestic animals-being too scared-would leave the house and return only after Tết. Hence, the sentence “Run like a dog scared by the bombard”.
“LÓI” FIRECRACKERS (Deafening firecrackers)
In the old days, people in the Nghệ Tĩnh countryside used to manufacture themselves a type of firecrackers called “lói” (deafening) i.e. a type bigger than the “bùng” (booming) firecrackers. People in this region used the castor-oil plant mixed with firecrackers’ powder, then they made a fuse and stuffed the whole thing inside a bamboo tube about 15cm long. This bamboo tube has a node of about 2 or 3 cm of diameter. With this, the countryside people have created the “lói” (deafening) firecracker that gives a deafening boom, at that time, in the region of Đức Thọ, Linh Cảm, there was the custom of rewarding people who dared to infiltrate deep into the backside or backyard of rich people’s houses with a lot of vicious dogs to light this type of “lói” firecrackers on New Year’s Eve. If the deafening boom causes the household to leap up, this fact would constitute a good omen for that rich family. The one lighting the firecracker should make himself known to the house owner to receive a reward. On the contrary, if the firecrackers happen to be dumb ones that fail to explode, then the only issue left is to shrink away for fear of receiving a staggering thrashing.
Today, in Vietnam, the custom of setting off firecrackers has been abolished (since the Ất Hợi-year of the Pig 1995). Each family has had to sign a statement guaranteeing that it will not set off firecrackers in its loäcality. People guilty of setting off firecrackers whoever they are must be severely punished. A publication in HaNoi has been suspended for having lack enthusiasm to support the state’s order prohibiting the setting off of firecrackers. People relate that in former Saigon, an order prohibiting the setting off of firecrackers had been issued since the year Canh Tý (Year of the Mouse 1960). At that time, those failing to observe that order were not only fined but were also arrested and confined at the Saigon Alm-house4.
The following paralled sentences for Tết, reserved for the blind, still bring up the two basic factors; the sound of firecrackers and the Tết pole:
“In the evening of the thirtieth day of the twelfth lunar months, while promenading, one’s foot unexpectedly kicks the Tết pole and one knows: Ah! it’s Tết!
In the morning of the first day of Tết one hears the sound of firecrackers and realize: Oh ! Spring has come!”
The “pháo trúc” (yellow bamboo) firecrackers is the type made of yellow bamboo tube, stuffed with sulphur and slack coal, and blocked at both extremities, then blown by means of a fuse to create a big boom. This type is also called “bộc trúc” (exploding bamboo) i.e. “pháo trúc” (since the 7th century, the Chinese have invented gunpowder and used it to make crackers).
Along with the above-mentioned firecrackers creating big booms either single boom or a salvo of booms (pháo tràng) there are also the “pháo hoa cà”, “pháo hoa cải” (firecrackers giving coloured lights when fired). These kinds of firecrackers are similar to the firework. To make them, the villagers use female bamboo tubes, stuffed them tightly with gunpowder mixed with cast iron dust and soot.
On the New Year’s eve, the sky is as black as ink, when fired, these types of firecrackers produce coloured lights that sparkle like lilac and cabbage flowers. The red and the blue colours produced by these firecrackers are due to the cast iron dust and the soot they contain.
1 Associate Professor HUNG NGUYEN MANH, Doctor in Phylosophy of History.
2 According to G. PISIER – “Indochine” Nos. 75-76 dated Feb.12, 1942 – Pages 17,18,and 19.
3 According to TRẦN XUÂN TUY, “Tết Firecrackers” – Vinh College Issue of Giáp Thìn Spring, Saigon 1964 p.46.
4 TRẦN XUÂN TUY – Tết Firecrackers Vinh College Intramural magazine of the Association of Former Students at Vinh College – Spring issue of Giáp Thìn Year 1964, p.46.
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 – thanhdiavietnamhoc.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 1
◊ Paying the last honours to CÔ KÍ” (The clerk’s wife) on the second Day of TẾT
◊ Before BEGINNING to WORK – Section 1
◊ Vietnam Lunar New Year – vi-VersiGoo