Rituals in Tet (Vietnamese Tet part 2)

Some of the customs described in this section have lost their original religious meanings but are still followed today out of "respect for tradition". They are observed to varying degrees according to the age of those involved and their social ties.



How are the kitchen gods seen off to Heaven to report to the Jade Emperor?
In practice, preparations for Tet begin a week beforehand, following the ceremony held in honor of the kitchen god, which takes place on the twenty- third day of the twelfth moon. That day, the Tao quan of each household goes up to Heaven to present the Jade Emperor with a detailed report on the behavior of each member of the household. The Tao quan, often represented in practice by a male god, is actually a triad composed of one goddess and two gods.
 
Vietnamese folklore contains a beautiful legend (See entry above) about these kitchen gods. They are represented concretely by the three stones on preside over family life, which they protect and Heaven to present their report; they return with the New Year.
 
Before their departure, people try to coax the gods into a favorable mood by offering a farewell meal, votive gifts (paper caps, boots, and gowns) and a live carp, which the gods ride to Heaven. According to tradition, the fish must be released in a river after the ceremony.
 
This story of the annual report as well as attempts to bribe the gods have inspired an abundance of satirical literature in the from of poems and rhymed prose. The wicked are thrashed, the vulgar are ridiculed, and emperors and mandarins are attacked in caustic "reports" attributed to the Tao quan.
 
What are the streets like before Tet?
In Hanoi, as Tet draws near, streets and market- places take on a lively and picturesque appearance. Flowers, potted plants, and popular drawings are on sale. At the flower market in Hang Luoc Street, one can buy narcissus bulbs, red- fruited quat plants, and prink and white-budded hai duong. Along Hang Bo Street, white- bearded scholars sell red- paper banners and posters with "parallel sentences" praising the New Year, Spring and the joys of home life.
The brightly-colored popular drawings so dear to the hearts of children depict daily life, often in the from of simple and nave animal sketches: the toad teaching his class, the mouse going to her wedding. They tell epic stories drawn from nation history or episodes of folk tales such ass the Trung Sisters’ fight against feudal Chinese invaders, Thach Sanh killing the eagle that carried away the princess, Dinh Tien Hoang crossing the river on the back of a dragon, the love- story of the buffalo boy and the girl weaver, and the story of the daughter of the Jade Emperor.
 
What foods do families prepare?
Each family prepares traditional foods in advance: fish an meat cooker in fist sauce, pickled onions, and vegetables. One must not forget banh chung,a kind of cake made of sticky rice stuffed with beans and pieces of far pork. The cooking of banh chung takes many household sitting by the great boiling pot have a peculiar charm that is often evoked by poets an novelists.
Children listen open- mouthed to stores told by their elders, who also recall memories of the year just passed.
 
How do country people drive evil spirits away?
In the country, preparations come to an end with the raising of the New Year Pole, the cay neu. A piece of bamboo five or six yards long is stripped bare except for a little bunch of leaves. Near the top is suspended a round bamboo frame holding a few little fish and bells made of baked clay that tinkle softly in the wind. Beneath this frame are votive gifts and some thorny branches. At the top of the pole, a small kerosene lamp s lit at night.
 
The cay neu marks the way for the ancestor’s spirit, who come back from the Other World to enjoy Tet with the living. Evil spirits are scared away by the thorns and the tinkling of the bells. Other precautions are also taken: Villagers use lime powder to sketch a drawn bow on their courtyards. The arrows of the bow are supposed to frighten away evil spirits.
 
What do people on New Year’s Eve?
Everything is calm when the sun sets on the thirtieth day of the twelfth moon, the last day of the old year. Doors are closed soon after nightfall. Not a soul stays outside.
 
The finishing touch is given to the preparations. The head of the family burns incense sticks and sets out glasses of alcohol, cups of tea, a plate filled with assorted flowers, and a bowl of fresh water on the ancestor’s altar. Long sticks of sugarcane are placed beside the altar: they serve as walking- sticks for the old, bent- backed ancestors.
 
The children will not go to bed. They are on watch for the coming of the New Year.
A table laden with offering to the Heavenly King is placed in the middle of the courtyard. At midnight, the head of the household conducts divine services with clasped hands and a bowed head: in the past, this was done amidst the deafening noise of firecrackers. As the popular saying goes. "There can be no real Tet festival without fat meat, pickled onions, ‘parallel sentences’ written on red paper, a high neu pole and sticky rice
 
The night of "Passage to the New Year" is also one for making visit to temples and pagodas. For non- believers, this traditional round through the fragrant atmospheres of the holy places is a pretext for a pleasant outing, whose charm is not in the least spoiled by the fine drizzle of spring rain. People take home a few green boughs whose buds are symbols of happiness and prosperity.
 
How do people celebrate the first three days of the New Year?
The first day of the New Year, everyone gets up early. Children impatiently wait to be dressed in their best clothes.
 
Adults have other preoccupations in mind: They are waiting for the first visitor and hoping that the first person to set foot on the family’s threshold will bring good luck for the whose year. They often make arrangements for such and such a person, gifted with some talent or possessing many children, to accept the responsibility of being the first caller for the New Year.
 
On the occasion of each visit, people exchange cordial wishes: They wish one another good luck, longevity, prosperity, happiness, and in the case of newlyweds, the birth "of the son at the beginning of the year and a daughter at the end of the year. "Visitors often insist upon praying in front of the host’s ancestor’s altar.
 
The street begin to fill up towards the end of the morning. Dressed in their bets clothes, people call on relatives and friends.
 
Women, mostly those of the older generation, go to temples to ask for their "bill of fate". Kneeling before the altar, they shake a cylindrical box filled with bamboo pegs until one of the pegs falls out on the mat. The peg gives the number of the "bill of fate," which can be obtained from the guardian of the temple interpret the "divine" words.
 
Visiting goes on for three days. On the fourth day, the family offers the ancestors a farewell meal and burns his or her routine work. Those most attached to old traditions take care to consult the calendar in order to start at a "lucky" day and hour.
 
But the Tet spirit does not die away. It persists throughout the springtime rural festivals which spread over the fist three moons of the year.

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