SPRING AND CALENDAR
1. RECKONING BY ONE'S OWN CAKES
Figure shows three calendars hung beside the altar (*) . The first (from left to right) is the Duy Tan calendar of the year Dinh Dau (1897). The second is the (Chinese) Quang Tu calendar of the year Dinh Mui (1907). The third is the Thanh Thai calendar of the year Dinh Mui (1907). The lines of letters bear the king’s name and the year’s name according to lunar calendar.
(*) H. OGER : “Côté de l’autel” (beside the altar)
The Hré people in Quang Ngai province have a curious way of calculating time. As we know, they also eat sticky rice cakes like the Vietnamese - but without filling. When making cakes, apart from those for guests and relatives, they prepare one cake for each family member. The wrapping leaves of these cakes are reboiled and hung each in a special place and with a special mark reserved for each member. The number of leaves shows the number of years that each family member had enjoyed Tet. At death, the leaves are hung at his or her tomb.
2. COUNTING THE DROP OF WATER
Compared to the above- mentioned ways of measuring time, the water clock was the most “advanced” one. Some people think that in China people looked at the sun to know the time at day and listened to the drops of the water clock at night.
In a book of hygiene in prevention of diseases there was a description of the way to let water drop so as to reckon time - the water exhausting after 12 hours.
Early in this century the water clock was very simple. A basin of water is hung on a support - the basin having a hole to release the “drops of time” into another basin underneath. When the first basin ran dry, one day had passed and the water in the second basin was poured back into the first one.
If it was night, the water was calculated so that it was exhausted at the beginning of the day. “The night was divided in five watches and the day six parts".
The first watch is called Tuất (dog) watch
(From 19:00 pm to 21:00am)
The second watch is called Hợi (pig) watch
(From 21:00 pm to 23:00pm)
The third watch is called Tý (mouse) watch
(From 23:00pm to 1:00am)
The fourth watch is called Sửu (buffalo) watch
(From 1:00 am to 3:00 am)
The fifth watch is called Dần (tiger) watch
(From 3:00 am to 5:00 am).
3. LOOKING AT THE SUN
“In the autumn night, the time is dropping and dropping !
The leaves fall under the wind, the moon is veiled by a mist.”
The use of the water clock has been mentioned by poet Nguyen Du in his The Tale of Kim Van Kieu. Today, people may think that only poor people used this rudimentary clock. In fact, only a few rich people could afford it. People in the countryside reckoned the time by various cockscrows at night and by looking at the sun at different heights in the daytime.
During an examination at the beginning of this century - sometimes a student stepped out of his hut and looked at the sun to see whether it was noon already so as to deliver his paper.
Around a citadel, a barrack, a government office, people listened to the drum beats of the watchman: one beat for the first watch, two beats for the second watch, and three beats for the third watch.
“Just as it is fortunate that
Dead toads have merit cloths in front of their coffins,
Jobless people have drums to count time”
What did watchmen rely on to beat their drums? They looked at the moon and stars. When the night was dark or windy or rainy, they had to light incense as an approximate way of reckoning time and they also had to bear in mind that the days are longer in summer and shorter in winter.
COMPLYING WITH HEAVEN DISPOSITIONS
At the beginning of the year, when one wishes to deal with matters such as going out, opening a shop, writing the first words, breaking land, worshipping, meeting with friends, burying ... or starting to build a house, a roof ... or going out to do business, leaving one’s house for a long trip, sending one’s child to the school for the first time, asking a girl’s hand or taking a husband, one must always consult the calendar to know the auspicious day and hour to act in compliance with heaven’s will. Some people even look at the calendar before building a pen to keep his piglets, so as to avoid unauspicious day.
Thus, with the asians at that time, a calendar was just like a “ vade mecum” for everything. therefore we should see how the vietnamese of yore made and consulted the calendars throughout all those endless days and nights !
There were two kinds of calendar in circulation among the people : vietnamese calendar and chinese calendar. both indicated auspicious and unauspicious days, sufficient and deficient months... but the vietnamese calendar was summary and thin - about five sheets of paper of (22 x 15) centimetres -unable to match the chinese one - about 200 sheets of paper of (27 x 16) centimetres, and four to five times dearer.
In 1910 the chinese calendar came from Guangdong under the name of “hong tu dau thong tu” while the vietnamese one was called duy tan calendar of the year canh tuat.
A chinese calendar is nearly like an encyclopedia, recording everything from weather forecasts to fortune-telling, treatment of diseases, amulets, auspicious and unauspicious days - according to Jean Przyluski (3) . On page 2 of the hong tu dau thong tu of 1910 it is said that to build a house looking to the west or east is good while the north is taboo. that year, the first farming work also had to be done away from the northern direction.
Some people even believed that a calendar is also used to ward off evil so that it is put into a coffin beside a deceased.
Now let us look at forecast in a chinese calendar. it says in vague terms about house-building, burial and marriage only. However, sometimes a chinese calendar delves into details so that one adheres to them one may have only one bath in the year by year end.
(3) According to JEAN PRZYLUSKI - Le Peuple (the peopl) no date, as printing place mentioned.
CÂU MANG GENIE
Now let us see a sample of a calendar, perhaps a Vietnamese one (?) forecasting the harvest in the year 1908 - H. OGER called this sample page : heading of an almanac.
It shows a buffalo with Cau Mang genie in the form of a buffalo boy leading the beast in one hand and holding a branch in another. Besides, there are four verses in Chinese script.
“Life depends on tombs
Not on full rice-bowls”
By the end of the year H. OGER and his painter follow people going to their tomb-visit so as to repair them from the inclemencies of weather . Not only spades and shovels are ready but also incense, flowers, sticky rice and hen. This custom of tomb- tending bespeaks one’s piety.
In the South, the twenty third of the twelfth month is an im- portant day, important not in view of sending off the Genius of the kitchen to heaven but of visiting one’s relatives’ tombs. One does not necessarily stage a ceremony but clean the tombs, cut the plants growing around them, especially those growing on them to prevent their roots from going deeper. However, many people make an offering - a boiled hen for instance. Some people even bring a pig and ask friends to go with them.
In the South one does not visit tombs in March as the fields are parched at that time. Here the tombs are not buried in the fields but on a hillock with an environment fit to give prosperity to one’s offsprings.
ERECTING TET POLES AND EATING SWEET BEAN SOUP
“The turtle dove chirps three times to announce Tet
Let us erect a pole and .eat beans cooked in .syrup.”
Even a city dweller who has not lived one day in E the country-side is stirred by this folk song. This image is brought to light by H. OGER, representing the period between the sending off of the Genius of the kitchen and the eve of Tet.
This is a scene of planting a Tet pole accompanied by making an offering and lighting a firecracker. The pole is a whole bamboo trunk stripped of its branches. H. OGER has drawn a pole with a small bamboo basket containing betel, areca nut and votive paper- money. In fact, the form of the pole varies with each place.
In some places its top is adorned with a tuft of pine-apple leaves and a round bamboo parasol from which dangle lanterns, musical stones and baked-clay fish. In other places only some baked-clay musical instruments are enough to resound in the wind.
Tet poles are also planted in pagodas. Besides baked-clay musical instruments and votive paper money, there is also a banner. Moreover, lime powder is sprayed before the three- door triple gate and the pagoda yard in a cross-bowlike form to chase away ghosts and devils.
However, families who feel inconvenient to plant Tet poles tie banyan branches or pine-apple leaves to their gates. In some places, lime powder is sprinkled. In front of the yard and the gate are drawn images of chess-board, crossbow and arrows pointed right and left to fend the houses from ghosts and devils. In the South, people don’t plant Tet poles but paste an amulet at the door.
Some document records that :
“Lime powder is dredged in front of the gate to form the shapes of square, circle or triangle, especially of a cat. Most feared by ghosts and devils are triangle and cat.
In another sketch, H. OGER draws a Tet pole with a fish being hoisted by a pulley.
Another sketch, shows a lantern being hoisted in place of a fish accompanied by a note : Lantern pole in Nôm script and another note by H. OGER - Tet pole. Is it one of the lantern poles planted on both sides of the village entrance on Tet and other festivals?
Musical stone (Khanh) is homonym of happiness, joy in Chinese. Is the fish a symbol of success according to the legend of the carp getting over Vu Mon waterfall ? For its part, the tuft of pine- apple leaves is aimed at scaring away devils. In some place, it is accompanied by a banana leaf. What does the latter symbolize? According to L. CADIÈRE, it is the bowel of an evil spirit : once upon a time a recluse good spirit was approached by an evil spirit. The former said : How can you lead a religious life with so many crimes ? Replied the latter : I’ll give you my bowel to show my repentance.
According to G. PISIER, the Tet pole is a 5-6m bamboo tree stripped of branches and leaves save for a tuft of leaves on top or a tuft of fowl feather or a tuft of banyan leaves, an “evergreen”. Near the top a bamboo ring is made to which are hooked small fish bells and baked-clay gongs, the latter beat against one another to make a sweet sound. Below this ring are hung hats of deities, paper ingots, betel quids, pine-apple leaves or thorny plants (like cactus). On top is hung a lantern to light darkness. G.PISIER has drawn an image of it (fig.103).
We don’t see any lantern but there is a banner on top. The tet pole is planted together with an areca-nut tree in front of the brick house. Between the pole and the tree are an altar to Heaven and a jar of water. G.PISIER does not say precisely where this Tet pole was found!
In front of the Lord’s Palace and the ordinary people’s house, big Tet poles are planted and on the top of each one of them is tied a cluster of green leaves (the branch of cycad) ... or sometimes, some other joss paper things such as a gold ingot, a few bank-notes, some stalks of straw and a small handled-basket of flower containing some copper coins are also tied on the pole top. The roman Catholics are allowed by the Roman Catholic priests to plant the Tet pole but they are not authorized to tie the above-mentioned things on its top.
- In his works entitled “ Gia Định thành thông chí” (History and Description of the Lowlands of Cochinchina}, author Trinh Hoai Duc wrote: “Toward the first half of the 19 th century, on the day immediately preceding the lunar New Year Day, every family planted before its house a bamboo basket holding betel, areca-nut and lime, and beside that basket were hung joss paper gold and bank-notes and that custom was called planting the bamboo Tet pole.
ON THE 23 rd of THE 12 th LUNAR MONTH Every body solemly workship the “ong Tao” (Kitchen God)
The actual preparations for Tet days begin since the day people see the kitchen god off on the 23 rd of the 12 th lunar month, the “ong Tao” also called “vua Bep” (Kitchen God) sets seven days aside to fly up to the celestrial palace to report to the Emperor of Jade. On this occasion, people worship the Kitchen God with many offerings, foodstuffs, and fittings for the trip such as: shoes, mandarin’s hat (decked with wings like those of a libellula card etc ...)
The Kitchen God is present and lives throughout the year in the family, so he can witness all matters and gestures occured in this family. He’s entrusted with the mission of reporting to the Celestial Court all good and bad deeds. All persons that don’t behave themselves accordingly to the rules and right principles shall be punished and shall have to suffer from miseries and harshness throughout the year.
On this occasion, the Kitchen God mounts a carp, and flies up to Heaven. In the morning of the 23rd, in all the markets, people sell a great deal of symbolical carps. According to the strange beliefs people communicate to one another, the symbolical carp has caused many damaging and interesting mistakes to careless and naive students as follows:
A teacher asked little Cun: “What are animals people use to mount?”
Answer: Horse, elephant, camel, carp ...
As for my friend Ly Toet, he is quite worried, as he has an extremely cunning cat. Throughout the year it always amuses itself with the three bricks used as a trivet, while according to popular beliefs these bricks constitute the home of the Kitchen God. Ly Toet was afraid the Kitchen God might be in a state of blind anger against him. However, as he used to be smart and to have a humoristic mind, that morning he asked his daughter, Miss Ba Vanh, to go to the market and buy him three carps. Then he gave those three carps a poison that has a behind time effect. Xa Xe, who lives next door, wondered why, so he inquired and was simply answered by Ly Toet: “With this poison, the carp will die at half~way. The Kitchen God will have nothing left to mount to fly up to Heaven. He’ll not be able to report the affairs in my family, and I’ll not have to suffer from misfortunes”.
No one needs to pay attention to the nature and origin of the Kitchen God. His personality consists of a combination of Three Bodies and Two Sexes. The Annamese (former name of the Vietnames) used to mistake the Kitchen God for the Genius of the Hearth (Tho Cong). For that reason, the popular way to describe him is to symbolize him by the image of a family consisting of two men and a woman. This is quite a strange family in a country in which polygamy is adopted and preferred. According to jesters, one ought to consider this fact as an appropriate revenge of Vietnamese women.
(According to G. PISIER Extracted and translated from the “Indochine” magazine, issue No. 127 dated Feb.4, 1943).
The little boy: Daddy! Come and see! We saw the Kitchen God off yesterday, how come he is coming back today? And his mandarin’s hat no longer has its wings!
(Everybody knows that the 23rd of the last lunar month is the “Tet ong Tao” (Kitchen God’s Day), also called the Ceremony to See the Kitchen God Off. The Kitchen God is the Tao Quan in Vietnamese. People see him off and offer him a carp which he mounts to fly up to Heaven and report to the Emperor of Jade. People also worship him with a mandarinal dress made of motley coloured papers and particularly with a traditional mandarinal hat, decked with wings like those of a lubellula, worn by Vietnamese mandarins. The Kitchen God used to be considered as a personage with a face as black as ebony, and from this known fact originates the familiar expression “As black as the Kitchen God”. The little boy in (figure 1), being too naive, had thought that the Hindu who just came in !to dun was the Kitchen God who had lost all the wings on his mandarinal hat).
(According to G.PISIER - “Indochine” issues No. 75-76 dated Feb. 12, 1942. Pages 17,18 and 19).
Why the branch of peach blossom and the narcissus are still used for decorating people’s houses at Tet?
The habit of using the branch of peach blossom as an ornament has existed since time immemorial. Superstitious people believe that the habit of displaying the branch of peach blossom has existed since prehistoric times. At that time, people had the habit of pinning on the branch of peach blossom a talismanic amulet to obliterate evil spirits. In the course of time, the talismanic amulet has disappeared , but the use of the branch of peach blossom as a talisman still exists. The display of the branch of peach blossom is still observed, and shall always be maintained, as it constitutes a kind of special ornament, while its rosy colour is indeed the colour of happiness.
In the eyes of the Vietnamese, the narcissus with its refined, soft, and vague fragrance is still quite valuable. The Vietnamese had given it a very dreamy and romantic name when calling it “silver plate and gold cup” flower. Indeed, the immaculately white leaves gracefully bend themselves into the shape of a small plate, while the bright yellow petals, colour of gold, roll themselves up into the shape of a beautiful small cup.
The bulbs of narcissus are often imported from Pukien in China. One must see how the Vietnamese thin out the bulbs of narcissus to be able to know how much they love them: some experienced connoisseurs of flowers have thinned out the narcissus bulbs in a quite clever manner. They can cleverly and patiently thin them out in such a manner as to let them bloom right on Tet day. Such an original and rare result constitutes a sign foreseeing all the prosperities and wealths, acquired in the course of the year.
The broad use of narcissus also has its legendary source: In days of yore, there was, in China, a father who had left a heritage to his four sons. When on the brink of the grave, he told them to arrange between themselves to divide the heritage into equal parts. The three elders sons took all the profitable parts to the detriment of the youngest son. One day, that youngest son sat to bewail his lot in front of the poor piece of land reserved for him. A genius appeared and told him: “Sonny! Set your mind at ease. Although it looks rather bad, this piece of land holds, buried in it, thousands of bulbs of a rare and precious kind of flower; when Tet time approaches, they’ll bloom and are very fragrant. Take them to the market to sell them, you’ll become a very rich man”. The youngest son followed the advice and took the flower bulbs to the market to sell them. The flower was appreciated by everybody, creating a flower loving movement, spreading throughout the kingdom. From that time on, the youngest son became fabulously rich.
Basing ourselves on this legend, we have ground to explain that the symbolical value of the narcissus, vis-aø-vis the Vietnamese, represents success and wealth.
(According to G. PISIER - “Indochine” Nos. 75-76 dated Feb. 12, 1942 - pages 17, 18, and 19).
WAITING FOR THE NEW YEAR
1. ANTS AND DEVILS
We are shown a woman sitting before a frying-pan and frying something with a pair of chopsticks. The letters in Nom script let us know more. On the eve of Tet 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 folk-song 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
Kinh kien kinh cang
(untranslatable onomatopoeic verse)
I roat Mr. Ant
I roast the whole Ants’ village
Kien kinh kinh 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 “Vu Tuan” that used to strangle notwithstanding their sex. People call the three last days of the year - the three death days.
However, it’s not true that all the villages are afraid of 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 Dong Ky village (Dong Quang, Ha Bac) 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 Kinh Thien Cuong, aimed at mobilizing all forces to liberate the country. Saint Giong fighting against the An invaders
THE CUSTOM OF “MOVING THE HUT”
Commemorating the victory over the An invaders (under the reign of King Hung Vuong the 6 th ), people at the communal house of Phong Doanh Village (Binh Duong, Tam Dao, Vinh Phu) beat drums and gongs urging everybody to rush to the village’s roads leading to a place called “Mo nha choi ?” (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”.
2. THE LAST IMAGES
On the last days of the year, H. OGER and his painter try to record the scenes on that day. 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.
On the 3 th 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 Tet 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 Tet pole is planted, people must prepare to invite their ancestors to come back to enjoy Tet with them (just like at Ke Ri, Ke Che, Dong Son District, Thanh Hoa).
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 Tet 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 2 manners:
a. Display the offerings on the altar, light candle, offer incense and start worshipping at noon of the 30 th 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 (At Mao, Mau Than...) month....winter-tide, the 30 th 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 tine.
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
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.
b. This second way of worshipping is carried out in a much more considerable manner observing strictly the village customs (Dap Cau Village, Bac Ninh, Ha Bac) and complying with the significance of the Greeting Ceremony. In the afternoon of the 30 th of the 12 th 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 Tet 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 the ancestors, people still have to wait until the incense-sticks burn out to bring down the tray of festive dishes; then, the whole family gather around it to cosily and solemnly enjoy the meal on the eve of the lunar New Year, a significant one, filled with the satisfaction of having observed the right principle.
The image of such a 30 th of the 12 th lunar month or the 30 th of Tet 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 30 th of Tet (30 th of the 12 th lunar month)”.
3. A BAND OF DICE SHAKERS.
a. A group of poor children
If we want to look for a most stirring image in this great festival, we may choose the picture of a band of diceshakers (fig.40) to recreate a scene of life now lost in our society.
Early this century, on the eve of Tet in many places poor children gather in a band of dice-shakers, also called “amulet shakers” from Nghe Tinh province down south. Each band comprises about five or ten children but the picture shows only two
The first child holds a bamboo tube containing some coins which he shakes. The second holds some incense sticks. They present greetings to relatives and acquaintainces. In front of each house, the first child taps the bamboo tube against the ground and the band sings a chorus:
Suc sac suc se
Your house is still lit and you are awake,
Please open your door for us.
Stepping up we see a dragon brooding
Stepping downward we see a dragon flanking
Stopping rearward we see a brick house
Your elephant is tied up, your horse is held
You will live one hundred and five odd years Your wife will give birth to good children
Like pictures ! Like puppets !”
What house is not awake on the eve of Tet? If one refuses to open one’s door, it is as if one’s house is ash cold. Does the chorus want to bring luck which every house hopes for ? That is why the house-owner readily welcomes the band and gives it some money.
This money is divided among the children to buy firecrackers (fig.111) or school things. The accompanying sketch records this saving : A child putting his money into his coinbox.
“We sit at a dark corner
We compose parallel sentences
The high Tet pole, the red fire- crackers and the blue square gluti- nous rice cake
The fat, the pickled onions, and the red parallel sentences
Suc sac suc xe ”
Sharing a same influence within the oriental culture, the Japanese children in certain countryside areas also observe the custom of presenting Tet’s wishes just like the band of “suc sac suc se” in Vietnam, but their “scenario” is much better prepared and organized. This is the ceremony of “performing a horse dance” that takes place on the 15 th of the first lunar month of each year. A band of 5 or 7 children prepares in advance a fake horse (they apply make ups for the head, the tail and use a blanket to cover the horse-back). This fake horse is played by 2 children just like the dragon dance in Vietnam but not as lively as the Vietnamese dragon dance. They just step forward a few paces, then withdraw, then step forward again, then withdraw again ... in accordance with single drum beat and a song with only one refrain. After the horse dance comes an one - man act showing a single man carrying strenuously a package of straw plaited round like a pillow with a string pasted to its middle to facilitate the actions of putting the package of straw on the ground, out of the actor’s hand reach, then picking it up and draw it towards the actor’s body. While the one-man act is performed the children always have it accompanied by the sound of drumbeats and a song.
b. A group of amulet singers
In Phu Tho, Hoa Binh and Thanh Hoa provinces, the Muong people have a similar custom. The band of amulet singers from five to twenty people (not children) enter the houses in the village to greet their members. When the group comes, the house-owner greets them with many covillagers (but his door must be shut according to custom). The group beats a gong and the first man sings a “song to open the door” :
“The old year is out
The old Tet is gone
Embarking on the new year
Once in a year
What house shall we go ?
Let us enter this house
The inside door is bolted
The outside door is shut
Let us beat our gong mong mong
Let us beat our gong mong mop...”
Once the song ends, the door is opened and the band enters while beating its gong. Then comes a song of greetings :
“Our group of amulet singers
comes to your house
We see that your house pillars are made of “trai” wood inside.
We see that your house pillars are made of sandal wood outside.
Your buffaloes and oxen are plenty in the yard
The buffaloes are tied here and the oxen, there
Your sticky rice will last through- out May
In front are many rows of.peach blossoms
The hedge is lined with beautiful pine-trees
The peach trees give many flowers this year
The areca-nuts are also laden with fruit...”
In the sound of song and gong the house-owner elatedly receives the long greetings then gives the band presents (rice and so on...) The band continues its tour (*) .
At the same time, another boy solemnly presents himself before the master of the house, who is sitting there to watch them, to offer an “amulet” and also to receive an “envelop” or some gifts. The Japanese children have a plan to come to each house in the area at an appointed
Outside the sun is setting, the weather is cold, sometimes it drizzles - a sorrowful scene like a sending-off. In many places people invite their ancestors to come home and receive offerings, or they take incense and votive paper money to their graves; but in many other places they only light incense sticks on the altars of the Genius of the hearth and of their ancestors. Beside offering cakes and fruit, they prepare an afternoon meal and ask the souls of their forefathers to come home to enjoy Tet with their offsprings. Then they take a rest and wait for the new year.
(*) BUI VAN KINH, MAI VAN TRI, NGUYEN PHUNG (Contribution to the understanding of Hoa Binh provinc) Hoa Binh Culture and. Information service, 1972, pp 28-29 and 40.
Why do the Vietnamse place sugar cane near by their ancestral altar?
Legend and tradition want to use the sugar cane as walking-sticks for ancestors when they come back to enjoy the Tet time with their descendants.
(According to G. PISIER- “Indochine” Nos. 75-76 dated Feb.5 12, 1942 - Pages 17, 18. and 19)
Why do people fire crackers at Tet time?
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 so tue thoi ky” (Calendar of the Kinh So 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 debates-”
(According to G. PISIER “Indochine” Nos. 75-76 dated Feb.12, 1942 - Pages 17, 18, and 19)