Photos and text: Cong Dat
For the Vietnamese, the lunar new year is an important time to express desires and wishes. A typical feature of the country’s culture at this time of year is the calligraphy market, where an old scholar holds his brush, painstakingly making beautiful black strokes on red paper to convey people’s wishes.
No one knows exactly when the new year’s tradition of giving calligraphy began. When Confucianism was prominent, red parallel sentences were hung on front doors during Tet to celebrate spring. In the countryside, elderly scholars were often seen writing calligraphy on red paper in markets at the end of the year. In the city, in the old town section of Hanoi, veteran calligraphers sat on the sidewalk, displaying ink and red papers ready to write calligraphy and sell their works.
When shopping for Tet, or enjoying the spring festival, Vietnamese like to bring home calligraphy containing words describing their wishes, hoping that they might come true. When a brush is dipped in black ink, the artistic and energetic brush strokes fly lightly on red paper and create calligraphy filled with the philosophy of human life.
People might ask for particular characters in which their wishes and dreams for the new year are laid. Favorite words include phuc (happiness), loc (wealth), tho (longevity), khang (health), duc (virtue), tri (wisdom) or tai (talent).
Calligraphy works during Tet not only to share advice and hope among people but it also teaches about the need for nhan (patience) and tam (heart) in life.
Nowadays in Hanoi, Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam (the Temple of Literature) – is one of the most popular places for calligraphy during the Tet holiday. Visitors who go to the spring market at Van Mieu love to buy a piece of meaningful writing for a prosperous and happy new year. For the Vietnamese people, calligraphy giving has become a special tradition.
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