HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS IN VIETNAM

BIRTHDAYS AND AUSPICIOUS DAYS IN VIETNAM

Auspicious days and inauspicious days are widely recognized in Vietnam. The 5th, 14th and 23rd days of the lunar months are considered inauspicious days, when it best to lie low and not do anything out of the ordinary. National Geographic journalist Peter White once made arrangements to meet some friends on the 14th and sure enough they backed out on him at the last minute. When he went to the beach on his own he ate something that made him sick, got sunburn and had his watch and pocket knife stolen.

According to the Chinese calendar, when a child is born it is considered one year old. This form of tracking time is not practiced by all, but some Vietnamese in the U.S. continue to honor it. Therefore, if someone is seven years old, they may report they are eight years old. This is commonly referred to as the "Vietnamese age" or the "real age." The hour, day and year of the baby’s birth are of astrological importance because they can signal future details of the child’s life (Bodo & Gibson, 1999).

Vietnamese normally count age from the first day of the new year in which the individual is born with that year being numbered one. This is true even if a child is born just before the end of the year: which means they become two years of age on new year even though they are two days old. This does not infer, however, that the genuine birthday is not celebrated, for often it is an occasion of special prayer to the ancestors, extra flowers or food on the god-shelf to be found in almost every non-Christian home, and perhaps the invitation of special friends for the occasion, sometimes including a meal. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]

Public Holidays: Official holidays are New Year’s (January 1), Tet or Lunar New Year (movable date in January or February), Liberation Day to commemorate the fall of Saigon (April 30), Labor Day (May 1), and Independence Day to commemorate Japan’s withdrawal following its defeat in World War II (September 2).

In 2003, the BBC reported: "Vietnam's prime minister has asked the relevant authorities to ensure that weddings, funerals and other private celebrations are not too flamboyant, according to the country's state media. The Cong An Nhan Dan newspaper reported Prime Minister Phan Van Khai as saying that any violations would be dealt with severely and immediately. Weddings among Vietnam's wealthy are frequently used by families to flaunt their money, and the government has been trying to curtail excesses for several years. In 2002, Mr Khai told state employees to set an example to the rest of the population by toning down their family weddings and funerals. Correspondents say the warnings have not been heeded, prompting this new threat of punishment from Mr Khai. According to Cong An Nhan Dan, Mr Khai wrote to all ministries, state agencies and local governments last week asking them to increase their efforts to ensure family events are kept simple affairs. "It is necessary to criticise and severely deal with violations right away and determinedly," the paper added. However, flamboyant as many of the ceremonies may be, Vietnam is nevertheless encouraging more of its citizens to get married. [Source: BBC News, October 7, 2003]

See Separate Article TET: VIETNAM’S BIGGEST HOLIDAY

Chinese Calendar

Vietnamese still widely use the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. Many holidays and most festivals are held on dates set by the moon. Some Vietnamese still keep track of dates using the lunar calendar.

The Chinese calendar is divided into 12 lunar months of 29 or 30 days (a lunar month is 29 days 12 hours, 44.05 minutes). Extra months are added at fixed intervals and the calendars run through a cycle once every 60 years (1876-1935, 1936-1995, 1996-2055). The year 2012 on the Gregorian calendar was equal to the Lunar Year 4710 on the Chinese Calendar.

In Taiwan and Vietnam the Chinese calendar is only used to set the days of holidays. Both Gregorian and Chinese calendars are used in China and Korea, both of which celebrate two New Years. The four day Chinese New Year, Tet (the three-day Vietnamese New Year) and Suhl (the three to four Day Korean New Year festival) begins on the first new mon when the sun enter the constellation Aquarius. Hence the Chinese New Year may fall between january 21 and february 19.

See Zodiac Under Superstitions, Also See Chinese Calendar Under China

Feasts in Vietnam

Feasts (Vietnamese: co tiec) are significant events for families or villages, with usually up to 12 people for each table. A feast is prepared for weddings, funerals, and festivals, including the wish-for-longevity ceremony. In a feast, ordinary foods are not served, but boiled rice is still used. The well-known feast is the feast of 49 quan ho. villages with co nam ta`ng. Attendants are arranged into several groups according to their social status, gender, age, degree of acquaintance, and eating habits and preferences. Customarily, female guests will bring some food and help the hosts to prepare the feast. [Source: Wikipedia +]

A Vietnamese feast has two courses: main course (món man - salty dish) and dessert (món ngot - sweet dish). All dishes, except for individual bowls of rice, are enjoyed collectively. All main course dishes are served simultaneously rather than one after another. The major dish of the main course is placed in the centers of the tables, usually big pots of soup or hot pot. A basic feast (co mot tang) consists of 10 dishes: five in bowls (nam bát): bóng, mien (cellophane noodles), mang (bamboo shoot), moc (meatball), chim or gà ta`n (bird or chicken stew dishes) and five in plates (nam dia): giò (Vietnamese sausage), cha, gà or vit luoc (boiled chicken or duck), nom (Vietnamese salad) and xào (stir-fried dishes). This kind of feast is original and is organized only in the northern Vietnam. Other variations are found in central and southern Vietnam. +

See Tet

Festivals in Vietnam

The most important festivals and ceremonies in Vietnam involve ancestors. Death-anniversary celebrations, New Years’ celebrations and other events are oriented towards calling ancestors back to visit the family and involve ritually welcoming and greeting them and saying goodbye. There is one holiday in Vietnam in which people visit the graves of those who died during the Vietnam War and bless them and cut the grass around the graves and leave flowers or offerings.

Tet Han Thuc (Cold Goods Tet) is a typical Vietnamese festival. It is held on the 3rd day of the third lunar month in almost all the regions of Vietnam. Offerings of glutinous rice flour cakes stuffed with plum of brown sugar (banh troi), glutinous rice flour cakes stuffed with green bean paste (banh chay) are offered ancestors. The festival is also an occasion for people to visit and tidy the burial graves of relatives, often while drinking and having fun.

Tet Doan Ngo is held on 5th day of the fifth lunar month in most homes of the Kinh (Vietnamese). This is the middle year festival for the prevention of disease and ward off evil spirits (the day of changing weather from spring to summer, this is the time easy to get pathogen). On the day of "killing insects", every one has to get up early, eat fermented sticky and fruits. The worshipping is held at noon, hour of Ngo.

Tet Trung Nguyen is held on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month in pagodas and homes to honor The Buddha. It is a time when pardoning ceremonies for the deceased are held and prayers are said to clear them of false charges. Festivals at pagodas include the Vu Lan ceremony of Buddhism (also called "forgive the lost souls" ritual) and the fulfillment of filial duties. Praying to clear souls of false charges includes the open-door ceremony to forgive loss souls and the offering of food to ancestors and the giving of alms to monks. Tet Trung Nguyen marks the day that an official in the Hades forgives lost souls. Every family prepares a feast, offers votive paper offerings to ancestors and wandering souls who are without incense-smoke.

See Festivals, Villages Festivals in March

Traditional Festivals in Vietnam

Traditional festivals constitute a form of cultural activities, a spiritual product which the people have created and developed during the course of history. From generation to generation, the Vietnamese people preserve the fine tradition of "remembering the source while drinking water." Festivals are events which represent this tradition of the community as well as honour the holy figures named as "gods" – the real persons in national history or legendary persons. The images of gods converge the noble characteristics of mankind. They are national heroes who fought against foreign invaders, reclaimed new lands, treated people, fought against natural calamities, or those legendary characters who affect the earthly life. Festivals are events when people pay tribute to divinities that rendered merits to the community and the nation. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Festivals are occasions when people come back to either their natural or national roots, which form a sacred part in their mind. Festivals represent the strength of the commune or village, the local region or even the whole nation. Worshipping the same god, the people unite in solidarity to overcome difficulties, striving for a happy and wealthy life. Festivals display the demand for creativity and enjoyment of spiritual and material cultural values of all social strata. Festivals become a form of education under which fine traditional moral values can be handed from one generation to the next in a unique way of combining spiritual characters with competition and entertainment games. Festivals are also the time people can express their sadness and worries in a wish that gods might bestow favor on them to help them strive for a better life. ~

Generally speaking, every festival will include the following three steps: 1) Preparation: The preparation work is divided into two phases: prior to the coming festive season and in the immediate time before the festive day. The preparation work for the coming festive season starts right after the previous festival comes to an end. When it is coming to the festive day, people need to check the worshipping objects, attires, decoration, and cleaning of the worshipping place and statues. 2) The festive day: Many activities take place, including rituals of procession, incense offering, and rejoicing games, among others. They form the most important and significant part of any festival. These activities also play a decisive role in attracting tourists and deciding the timing of the festival itself. 3) The ending of the festival: The organization board expresses their thanks to all festival goers and closes the worshipping place. ~

In Vietnam festivals often take place during the three months in spring and in autumn when people have a lot of leisure time. In addition, the climate in spring and autumn is especially suitable for holding festivals and for festivals goers to enjoy. ~

Festival Rituals and Rules in Vietnam

Festivals require many compulsory rituals, which are carried out in a strict order from the preparation to the ending of a festival. In general, a festival has the following rituals: Statue washing rite is performed at mid-night of the day before the festival. This rite is preceded by a ceremony of water procession in some places. A ceremony to inform gods must be held prior to this statue-washing rite. Next is the rite of wearing hats and costumes for gods’ statues or putting them in their worshipping tablets if gods have no statue. After that, the statues of gods (or worshipping tablets, even costumes) are put in the palanquin, ready for the procession on the opening of the festival. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

A festival often includes the procession of gods, tutelary gods, royal order and water, of which the first and fourth rite are most popular. The content and meaning of the procession ritual vary from festival to festival with regard to the object of procession, its organization and participants. The procession of gods and water processions are usually carried out prior to the opening and closing ceremonies of the festival accordingly. ~

Festivals, as mentioned above, are to honour holy figures, i.e. gods or divinities to whose temples and shrines are dedicated. Very often a festival takes place in the courtyard of the village’s communal house which is spacious and convenient for the conduct of liturgical processes and rejoicing activities. As such, the ritual of god procession is held along the route from their places of worship to the place of liturgy. At the end of the festival, another procession will bring gods’ statues back to their temples. After the procession ritual are the ritual of presenting offerings to gods and the opening of the festival. In many festivals, a procession of the oration dedicated to gods is held every day. Each day a different oration is used. ~

In traditional festivals it is required that participants in the procession ritual must be men above 18 years old who are selected carefully on the basis of their physical strength and good ethics. Women can join the procession group in such festivals as Phu Day or Ha Loi which dedicate to goddesses. Anyone who is chosen to become a member of the procession group must consider it his/her own honour and his/her family. On its way, each procession bears its own symbol. People beat drums and gongs (formerly firecrackers were used) to signal the departure of the procession. On the closing day of the festival, a final ritual is held with all processes required. ~

National Day in Vietnam

National Day in Vietnam marks the day in 1945 when Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam’s independence. Describing the event in 2005, Tran Van Minh of Associated Press wrote: " Veterans with medal-covered uniforms were among about 13,000 people who celebrated Vietnam's National Day on Friday by parading through Ba Dinh Square, where beloved late President Ho Chi Minh declared independence 60 years ago. The veterans were accompanied by ribbon-covered floats, women wearing flowing "ao dai" tunics, and ethnic groups dressed in traditional garb. The parade, showcasing all sectors of the military, police and civil service, marched past the granite mausoleum, which holds the embalmed remains of the revolutionary leader known here simply as "Uncle Ho." [Source: By Tran Van Minh - The Associated Press - September 02, 2005 \^/]

"I'm very moved to be here today," said Le Tuyet Minh, 82, who was in a crowd of nearly 1 million people in the same square in 1945 when Ho Chi Minh made the announcement. "Our lives are now much better, but Vietnam remains a very poor country. We need to work much harder." Security was tight at the invitation-only festivities, which began with a 21-gun salute and ended later on a humid night with a big fireworks display. Top leaders, including Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, Communist Party Chief Nong Duc Manh and legendary Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap — the military mastermind behind the wars with the French and Americans — joined President Tran Duc Luong on the mausoleum's balcony to celebrate the country's accomplishments. "The victory of the August Revolution and the birth of a new Vietnam were historic milestones, shattering nearly a century of cruel colonial rule and fascism ... ushering in a new era in the nation's history, an era of independence and freedom," Luong said in a speech. \^/

"In the spring of 1945, Ho Chi Minh's communist League for the Independence of Vietnam, better known as the Viet Minh, controlled large parts of the country that the Japanese had taken over from the French during World War II. In mid-August, Ho Chi Minh called for a general uprising, and on Sept. 2 — the same day Japan formally surrendered after conceding defeat to the allies on Aug. 15 — he declared independence before large crowds gathered at Ba Dinh Square, ending more than 80 years of French colonial rule. Several months later, the French returned and Ho Chi Minh and his forces fled to the northern jungles where they fought another eight years before France surrendered at the battle of Dien Bien Phu on May 7, 1954. The Americans came next and Vietnam fought another long, bloody war that ended 30 years ago on April 30, 1975, with the north and south unified under communist rule. \^/

"Since then, following a period of severe poverty and isolation, Vietnam has begun opening up to the world. Capitalism is alive on every street corner with everything from fancy restaurants and hotels to street vendors hocking lottery tickets. The country is working to enter the World Trade Organization and posted the region's second-highest economic growth last year after China. "I've seen major changes in Vietnam, however there are still problems and difficulties that need to be overcome," said Vo Sy Dang, 70, who lives in Paris. "Looking back on what we have done over the past 60 years, we are proud to be Vietnamese." \^/

Giong Festival in Phu Dong and Soc Temples

The Giong Festival at Phu Dong and Soc temples has been declared by UNESCO to be an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. A traditional festival to commemorate and praise the mythical hero Saint Giong, one of four immortals of Vietnamese folk beliefs, it vividly imitates the fights of the Saint Giong and Van Lang people under the 6th King Hung against the foreign enemies. The festival raises public awareness about ancient tribal war and highlights patriotism, martial art traditions and the indomitable will, independence and love for freedom of the Vietnamese people. The Giong Festival is held in many locations throughout the northern part of Viet Nam, however the most typical ones are the Giong Festival at Phu Dong and Soc temples (Hanoi).

According to UNESCO: "The Gióng festival of Phù Dong and Sóc temples is celebrated annually in outlying districts of Hanoi, the capital of Viet Nam. Each spring, before the rice harvest, the Viet people honor the mythical hero, god and saint, Thánh Gióng, who is credited with defending the country from foreign enemies, and is worshipped as the patron god of the harvest, national peace and family prosperity. The festival at Phù Dong temple, which takes place in the fourth lunar month in the village of his birth, symbolically re-enacts his feats through the riding of a white horse into battle and the orchestration of an elaborate flag dance to symbolize the battle itself. Young men receive extensive training to play the roles of Flag Master, Drum Master, Gong Master, Army Master and Children’s Master, while 28 girls aged 9 to 13 are selected to play the enemy generals. The Flag Master’s dancing movements and drum and gong sounds convey the development of the battle, and paper butterflies released from the flag symbolically disperse the invaders. The arrival of rains after the festival is seen as a blessing from the saint for an abundant harvest. The celebrations at Sóc temple, where saint Gióng ascended to heaven, take place in the first lunar month and include the ritual of bathing his statue and a procession of bamboo flowers to the temple as offerings to the saint. [Source: UNESCO /^\]

The Giong Festival at Soc Temple (Phu Linh Commune, Soc Son District,Hanoi) is held annually from the sixth to the eighth days of the first lunar month. According to the legend, after defeating the foreign invaders, Soc Mountain in Phu Linh is the last stopover of the saint before flying to heaven. There are many traditional rituals during the festival such as procession ceremony, incense offering ceremony, the ritual of bathing saint’s statue and bamboo flowers offering ceremony to the Thuong (Upper) Temple where is dedicated to the Saint Giong. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

To prepare for the festival, at the fifth day night, people from eight villages of six communes in Soc Son District have carefully prepared offerings to the saint. On the sixth day - the opening festival day - villagers and pilgrims make incense offering to the Saint Giong Monument on Mount Da Chong. And at midnight of the same day, there is the bathing ritual of Saint Giong’s statue. On the main festival day, the seventh day which was the saint’s ascending to heaven day according to the legend, there is a procession of bamboo flowers to the Thuong Temple as offerings to the saint. The bamboo flowers are made of a bamboo pieces that are sharpened into flowers and dyed with various colors. The worshipped saint embodies the aspiration for a peaceful country, harmonious rain and wind, and abundant harvest. During the festival, there are other traditional games such as Chinese chess, human chess, cock fighting... and art performances of villagers as traditional opera (cheo), love duet (quan ho). ~

The Giong Festival at the Phu Dong Temple is held annually from the sixth to the twelfth days of the fourth lunar month in the village of Saint Giong’s birth in Phu Dong Commune, Gia Lam District, Hanoi. From the sixth to eighth days, there are ceremonies of carrying flags to Mau (Mother) Temple where is dedicated to the Saint Giong’s mother and carrying offerings of boiled rice and salted egg-plants to Thuong (Upper) Temple where is dedicated to the Saint Giong. The main day of the festival is the ninth of the fourth lunar month. On this day flags are carried from the Mau Temple to the Thuong Temple to sacrifice to the saint. In addition, fighting against the Yin invaders is re-enacted. The battle is elaborately arranged with the roles of Masters (Ong Hieu) such as the Flag Master, the Drum Master, the Gong Master, the Army Master, and the Children Master – the generals of Saint Giong troop which are played by young men and 28 girls play the enemy generals. On the tenth day, there are ceremonies of inspecting battlefield and giving offerings to the Saint Giong. On the eleventh day, the ceremony of cleaning and washing weapons with holy water takes place. On the twelfth day, a flag procession goes to announce the victorious news to heaven and earth. There are also ceremony of giving a feast to the troop and cheo performances celebrating the victory. ~

The Giong Festival of Phu Dong and Soc temples was officially recognized as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity by the UNESCO in November 2010 when it was described as "a Viet Nam culture museum that keeps many alluvial layers of culture and beliefs." Reasons why it was selected: 1) The Giong Festival is deeply rooted in the communities of the Red River Delta as part of their identity, transmitted from generation to generation and providing them a sense of continuity; 2) Its inscription on the Representative List could contribute to promoting human creativity and dialogue between cultures, while providing visibility to intangible cultural heritage; 3) Diverse and coherent safeguarding measures have been proposed aiming to preserve, document, transmit, recognize and promote the continuity of the Giong Festival, benefiting from the commitment of the communities and the State; 4) The bearer and practitioner communities were consulted and provided information for the nomination, as well as their free, prior and informed consent; and 5) The Giong Festival is inscribed in an inventory of the intangible cultural heritage of Viet Nam, maintained by the Viet Nam Institute of Culture and Art Studies. /^\

July: Wandering Ghost Month in Vietnam

According to VNO, Vietnam Travel & Living Guide: "In many Asian countries, Lunar July signals bad luck and curses of the wandering lost souls. It is believed that sometime during the first half of the month, the gate of hell is open and the ghosts from the Lower Realm will roam free on Earth. The ancestors and the deceased relatives will find their way back to visit living descendants. Other so-called "lost ghosts", which have no home and hear no prayers, will wander around, lost, lonely and bitter. The ancestors find their way back by tracing back the offerings and prayers of children, and upon feasting will bless them with good luck. Meanwhile lost ghosts, the ones with no relatives, forgotten by descendants or those who died without proper burial have nothing offered to them and will angrily curse bad luck upon strangers. [Source: VNO, Vietnam Travel & Living Guide ><]

"Vietnamese widely believe that July is the month that ghosts roam around and create trouble for just everyone. Many wholeheartedly blame their bad luck in July on the ghosts, and this contributes a major tank of gasoline added to the flame. To this modern day, even more than in the past, people often restrict from doing major projects or embarking on trips during this period of time. Others, mostly Buddhist practitioners, go on a vegetarian diet and pray for a rather unhealthy amount of time during the day. It is believed that the evil lost ghosts tend to stay with the likes of them, so the bad persons will end up paying a high price because of his companions. The atmosphere is more or less a "speak-easy", since bad luck is just around the corner and one cannot see it coming, or rather being thrown upon by the ghosts. ><

"The most notable event of this month, July 15th is the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts. Vietnamese families will prepare two feasts during the day. The first one is offered early, usually at noon, to ancestors. The second one, often offered sometime after sunset, is meant for the lost souls. People sometimes go to temples to pray to deceased relatives, while monks ask Buddha to forgive condemned souls that have committed sins in their human days and are cursed to be hungry ghosts. Many people also bring offering to the temples and donate for the purpose of feeding these ghosts. After the monks finish their prayers, people are encouraged to act the part of the ghosts and fight for the food. It is a day that everyone eases up and forgives the sinful souls. For their sins, these poor ghosts are already cursed to never be full again - they are pictured to have long pencil-thin necks and huge bellies. (Not to mention that food in hell is probably not that good either!). ><

"July 15th is the only day during the year that they can feast. Because they cannot eat proper food, the second offering of people usually consists of congee in very liquid form. Also, since Buddhism has that beings which do good and not harm living creatures will be rewarded, the offering to hungry ghosts are all vegan in nature. People trust that by restraining these ghosts from doing further evil - making them feast on no animal, they will be forgiven and one day regain their human form. It is a day of great compassion. ><

Ghost Month Offerings in Vietnam

According to VNO, Vietnam Travel & Living Guide: "In many Asian countries, Lunar July signals bad luck and curses of the wandering lost souls. It is believed that sometime during the first half of the month, the gate of hell is open and the ghosts from the Lower Realm will roam free on Earth. The ancestors and the deceased relatives will find their way back to visit living descendants. Other so-called "lost ghosts", which have no home and hear no prayers, will wander around, lost, lonely and bitter. The ancestors find their way back by tracing back the offerings and prayers of children, and upon feasting will bless them with good luck. Meanwhile lost ghosts, the ones with no relatives, forgotten by descendants or those who died without proper burial have nothing offered to them and will angrily curse bad luck upon strangers. [Source: VNO, Vietnam Travel & Living Guide ><]

"For many in Vietnam, it is common belief that living children should burn hell bank notes and joss paper to offer ancestors. These notes are believed to hold value in the afterlife, which is just a mirror image of this world. These days, the commodities include the latest techs and the most modern devices, from iphone to all types of vehicle and even entire houses. Upon the feast of the Festival, often at the end of the day, it is time for the fire to carry the goods to the other side. Depending on the regions, either at the end of July or right after the Festival, people will also light up lotus-shaped lanterns to guide the ghosts back in the afterlife. These lanterns are floated on rivers in great number, and when their light burns out, it is then that the ghosts have found their way back. These practices vary vastly by regions, for even the dates for the Festival differ greatly among countries. ><

"Perhaps strange to most, the day of the Festival of the hungry ghosts also happens to be Vietnamese (Lunar) Mothers' Day. People pay homage to their parents and ancestors, be them living or deceased. The custom is that one spends some time to think of mother's great heart and be thankful. People whose moms have passed away will wear a white flower on their shirt during the day, while others whose moms are still will have a red one. This very simple custom is largely practiced throughout the country, and bears a very sacred and deeply unique mark of the Vietnamese culture. ><

"As with every other cultures, there are always the ones who wish to bribe away their sins. Since Vietnamese believe that hell only opens its gate once a year, many think that they can pray and pretend to behave and get away with any evil for the rest of the year. These groups often flood temples with the most generous offerings, not only during the Festival, but year round. Unlike their miserable predecessors, monks these days are among the most well-off group of people. It has closed in being recognized as a full profession, and there is the new problem of fake monks praying on the pity and fear of the people. That says a lot about people these days!" ><

Tet Trung Thu (Mid-Autumn Festival)

Tet Trung Thu (Mid-Autumn Festival) Time is a Chinese festival also observed n Vietnam, held on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, it features a feast of banh nuong and banh deo (pastries and fruit), a procession of lights (parading with lanterns shaped as moon and stars), lion dances and Tet trong trang (moon looking for children). On this day, many say, the moon is at its brightest and roundest of the year and weather is brisk and cool.

Describing the event in 2003, Xinhua, the Chinese news service, reported: "Vietnamese people are living in a joyful atmosphere as moon- cakes in vivid red boxes and various kinds of colorful toys crop up all over the country. Mid-Autumn Festival is a traditional one for children in Vietnam. However, in recent years, many people, especially youths have taken advantages of the festival to gather for drinking, eating and going out. In recent days, along Ba Trieu street from the Sword Lake to Dai Co Viet street in Hanoi, there are dozens of shops selling moon cakes with trademarks of Kinh Do, Dong Khanh, Huu Nghi, and Bao Ngoc. In many other streets, such as Trang Tien, Hang Buom, and Hang Than, it is common to catch a sight of piles of moon- cakes displayed in shops beautifully decorated with colorful banners and lanterns. Loan, a resident in Hang Than street, told Xinhua that this is the first time the street has seen so many beautiful moon-cake shops. Moon-cakes with diversified flavors, shapes, sizes, and prices have flooded the market. The cake prices range from thousands to hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese dong (15,000 Vietnamese dong equaling to a US dollar) per package, depending on its size and core. [Source: Xinhua News, September 11, 2003 \\\\]

"Besides moon-cakes with traditional flavors of lotus seed, salted egg, and green bean, many of Hanoi's large hotels, such as Sofitel Metropole, Hilton and Horision, are offering their guests some variations of the festival favorite, such as French-style, chocolate, taro, and red bean flavors. Its price is averagely about US$15 per package which may be out of reach of most Hanoians. Despite moon-cake flooded market, Hanoians remain loyal to the products with lower prices of some local well-known makers such as Kinh Do and Huu Nghi. At an agent of Kinh Do Bakery in Thai Ha street, customers have to queue up to buy cakes. \\\\

"Together with moon-cakes and fruits, toys are an important part of the festival for children. The local toy market is heating up when the festival nearly comes. This year, most of shops in Hanoi' s main toy-selling streets of Luong Van Can, Hang Luoc and Hang Ma have launched the newest toy models. However, the traditional toys such as enlightened star-shaped lanterns and masks still appear to be available. Folk toys in bright colors, including animals made of porcelain, hand-made dolls, and boats, are widely displayed in pavements of Hang Ma Street in evenings. \\\\

Chinese-made products are dominating the local toy market as more than 70 percent of plastic toys in the market are imported from China. Shops in some toy-selling streets show 500-1,000 items, including supermen, moon sailors, dolls, and battery-powered cars. Most of the products are newly designed with fashionable styles and colors. Hung, a shop owner in Hang Ma Street, said every day he receives more than 100 customers. Best sellers include Chinese- made modern toys and enlightened lanterns, which are indispensable for the festival's parties. Toy-selling streets attract thousands of children and parents every day. In evenings, especially on Saturday and Sunday evenings, the streets are jammed toy buyers and are in a festive atmosphere of colorful lights and flowers. \\\\

A wide range of art performances are being held nationwide to serve children. A Mid- Autumn festival with children and family fair is ongoing in Hanoi' s Center for Cultural Exhibition. A giant star-shaped lantern, 23. 9 meters in height, the biggest ever made in Vietnam, is on display at the fair. \\\\

Whale Worship in Vietnam

The annual Nghinh Ong or Whale Worship Festival, a traditional festival for fishermen is held in early October in Ho Chi Minh City ‘s only coastal district, Can Gio. In 2009, Viet Nam News reported: "On the third day, a ceremonial offering is made by village elders in the traditional manner to show people’s gratitude to the whale and commemorate those fishermen that had died at sea. The offering, one of the highlights of the entire festival, features a palanquin procession from Lang Ong Thuy Tuong, or the Whale Tomb, to the sea and a whale welcome ceremony involving a fleet of 500 boats. [Source: Viet Nam News, September 29, 2009]

The rituals are followed by festivities to celebrate the community’s well-being and prosperity. This involves several folk performances including playing football on stilts, unicorn dances, tying crabs and wrestling, with the highlight being a performance of human chess. La Quoc Khanh, deputy director of the city’s Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said the district is hoping to turn the Nghing Ong Festival into a major tourist event and develop local tourism by focusing on sights, culture and history, he said. "Can Gio has potential to develop a wide range of eco-tourism. We aim to develop the district into an ideal weekend destination for city residents," he said.

Can Gio District, situated around 50 kilometers to the southeast of downtown Ho Chi Minh City, spreads over 70,421 hectares. Well over half of it is occupied by forests, 22,850 hectares by canals and rivers, and the most of the rest by aquaculture farmers, orchards and salt fields. The mangrove forest here was recognized as Vietnam’s first biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2000.

Christmas and Valentine’s Day in Vietnam

In 2002, AFP reported: "Christmas in mostly Buddhist Vietnam is of interest only to the relatively small Catholic community and to shopkeepers, who use the time to kickoff the spending spree that comes with Chinese New Year in February. There are only between seven and eight million Catholics in Vietnam, a little less than 10 percent of the population. In Hanoi, believers attend mass in the Saint Joseph cathedral. [Source: Agence France Presse, December 22, 2002 *+*]

"In the southern Ho Chi Minh city, the economic hub to where several Catholics fled the communist regime after the departure of the French in 1954, they celebrate the birth of Christ at the pink-bricked Notre Dame cathedral, built at the end of the 19th century. The cathedral unusually allows believers to follow the service in the square outside, sitting on their motorcycles. In Vietnam Christmas and New Year are mostly an opportunity for companies to organize lavish cocktail parties for their clients and suppliers, while their bosses give lengthy speeches in praise of their business. In Ho Chi Minh City, sidewalk vendors and small shops sell French-style Christmas log, and ornaments made from bits of string, discarded holocaust cards and hand-drawn paper angels. *+*

In 2001, Deutsche Presse Agentur reported: "Vietnam's upwardly mobile urbanites are putting their hearts into Valentine's Day, the latest Western obsession to be snapped up, city residents and shopkeepers said Tuesday.Garlands of fresh roses, boxes of Belgian chocolates, even drippy Hallmark greeting cards are being exchanged like never before in the communist state, where a strong work ethic and commitment to the nation was thought to take precedence over displays of affection. "The holiday was nothing some years ago," says Dong Hai Anh, who coincidentaly turns 24 on Valentine's Day. But Vietnam's ideologues are well-versed at taking snippets from foreign cultures and nurturing them with Vietnamese sentiment. In recent weeks, Vietnam has splashed out on Christmas complete with a round-bellied Santa, millennium New Year's Eve madness, and the most commercialized-ever Tet, Vietnam's lunar new year. [Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur, February 14, 2001 |=|]

"Hai Anh said she now receives loads of attention ever since her friends learned her birthday is February 14. "I don't get many roses anymore," she sulks. "They're way too expensive on my birthday." Flower sellers and other merchants, of course, are the biggest winners in Vietnam's latest flirtation with Western tradition. Wholesale prices for roses jumped 600 percent by Tuesday over normal rates, according to the Tuong Vi flower shop in Ho Chi Minh City. "We are doing very well," says Tuan Anh, owner of the Hanoi shop Wonders, where Hallmark Valentine's Day cards fly off the shelves. |=|

"Tuan said young people, mostly students, are paying a dollar or more per card, equivalent to a day's wage for most Vietnamese. The nation's tightly controlled media has jumped on the bandwagon, with top newspapers publishing elaborate spreads on Saint Valentine, new gift-giving trends, even how to mend broken hearts. "That's not our holiday," gripes Mrs. Toan, a middle-aged housekeeper in Hanoi. "People just want an excuse to sell things." And people are buying it. Vietnam's per capita income is roughly $400 per year, and far less in the countryside, where buying chocolates for loved ones is a remote fantasy. |=|

"People have expendable income now," Hai Anh says. "They're more prosperous and want to give and express love to those around them." City dwellers also have wider access to information, particularly through the world wide web, says shopkeeper Tuan Anh. "They understand from the Internet and mass media a bit more about Western culture and they think it's cool," he says. "It's changing the atmosphere a bit." |=|

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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