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Lunar New Year rituals are rooted deep within in mythology and folk tales. The origin of these rituals may be obscure, but they have come to symbolize the desire for a fresh start and prosperous year ahead. During Tet, the biggest celebration of the year, Vietnamese people honour the transition of one year to the next with prayers, offerings and pilgrimages.
The beginning of the celebrations is on December 23 when the Kitchen Gods attend a Heavenly Meeting. Two weeks prior, people clamor to buy paper Kitchen Gods from vendors in alleyways and on community street corners. A nylon bag includes three hats of gold, green and red placed on a red paper pedestal and three carps. Many families buy three live carp and release them along with ashes of the burnt votives after the offering is made. It’s believed to help the three Kitchen Gods (two male Gods and a female God) depart quick and conveniently to Heaven. Votives are enclosed with incenses, flowers, sticky rice, bananas or whatever one may think of.
Traffic in the mundane world is a nightmare, particularly in the run-up to Tet because of robust trading. Often people are afraid of traffic congestion and make Kitchen God sacrifices on the 21st or 22nd. What happens in the world happens in the underworld. A little advance doesn’t matter.
Year-ending sacrifices occur beginning on New Year’s Eve. These include pilgrimages, sacrifices for deities and titular gods and rituals for ancestors and the departed to join the Tet of the mortal world. The altar consists of the Five Fruits tray, sticky rice, a plate of a boiled rooster holding a red rose, jams, chưng cakes, liquor and anything that families can buy within their budget.
Offering rituals to deities are performed in courtyards, and on balconies and rooftops. The offerings are a set of votive candles and a tray of food. As incense is burned, family members celebrate the New Year together with a glass of wine, a bite of chưng cakes and sweets. Grandparents give grandchildren lucky money. Parents also give some to their children. The notes are new, without any folds. Lucky money depends on the will and financial budget. Red bank notes are still the most popular gift. A red bank note denotes fortune and good luck. Lucky money even includes two-dollar notes, which are quite rare.
Following ancestral offeringsnew spring vitality. It’s believed that the first person to enter the house on New Year’s Day will affect the luck of the family in the year, therefore, preferably the person should have the zodiac sign that is suitable for the head of the house. ood health and prosperity dance through the whole family.
On the first morning of the new year, people travel to village pagodas and temples to seek out fresh bck. Doors to the Inner Hall are opened where candles burn brightly to welcome Buddhists practicing their rituals. Groups of pilgrims come and go amidst the otherworldly bell echoes and swirling smoke of burning frankincense, of course, good.
People fervently visit pagodas and shrines or attend festivals. From local pagodas and temples to further destinations and places of worship that are only reached by car, people seek sacred places or the same ones they visited last year.
The elderly attend senior festivals, donning brown áo dài, cotton jackets and overcoats. However old they may be, the elderly barely feel weary in their visits to places of worship and are willing to climb high mountains to reach a pagoda. Young men and women also make pilgrimages for worship and sightseeing. Grandparents and grandchildren make pilgrimages together. Staff members and employees gather to perform New Year rituals to pray for fortune and wealth.
According to traditionWealth’ select the western direction and those who crave peace and happiness choose the south. Nowadays New Year pilgrimages are based on zodiac animals or people just choose the direction that leads to their intended place of worship.
Offerings are rarely abundant given the long distance, but adequate and vary with intentions and financial means. A luxurious offering includes a plate of sticky rice, boiled chicken, wine, tea, expensive fruits and a stack of money. More modest souls just need some flowers and fresh water. Depending on the prayer’s intentions, the offering might be in Vietnamese dong, dollars or votive money. Vietnamese and Chinese ordinances can feature New Year wishes. Ordinance writers boast some knowledge of Chinese and different templates to fill in customers’ names and addresses. Masters of Chinese will write on the orders of pilgrims. Their thoughts and wishes are laid bare on the paper. The ordinance is presented and burnt, carrying the faith and due respect into the atmosphere.
Amidst the thin veil of otherworldly incenses of fantasy, it seems that only mundane wishes are real. As offerings are disassembled, part is brought home, and part is left at the pagoda. Pilgrims are given some tokens of fortunes, perhaps a few pieces of fruit and some lucky money. Both givers and takers bask in satisfaction.
In the next few days, pilgrims will let their hearts guide them to their favorite pagodas and temples. Hanoi boasts the West Lake Temple dedicated to Lady Lieu Hanh, Quan Su Pagoda, Tran Quoc Pagoda, the Two Ladies Temple and the Temple of Literature. Other destinations include the Do Temple Festival dedicated to Ly Kings, Phu Giay Festival, Tran Temple known for its symbolic seals, peaceful Tieu Son Pagoda with a Buddhist statue at a mountain peak, the Perfume Pagoda Festival, and the Temple of the Lady Warehouse, filled with borrowers and collectors of lucky money. At the sacred Yen Tu Festival, it takes at least three years to have wishes come true. The Tay Phuong Pagoda has 18 Arhat statues imbued with stoicism and Buddhist doctrines.
Hue is a land of pagodas and mausoleums. New Year is a high time for visits to Thien Mu Pagoda, Quoc An Pagoda, Bao Quoc Pagoda, Tu Hieu Pagoda, Huyen Khong Pagoda or Tra Am Pagoda to see ancient stupas dedicated to Buddha, departed chief monks or sacred and divine tower pagodas.
he Vietnamese, Chinese, Khmer and Cham. Old Buddhist pagodas including Giac Lam, Giac Vien and Phung Son and newer ones such as Vinh Nghiem, Xa Loi, the Only Pillar of the South, and Tran Hung Dao Temple. At this time, Khmer pagodas and Champa monasteries are also crammed with fanatic followers.
Prayers are for good fortune, outstanding academic results, national peace, affluence, happiness, material borrowings or advancement. They may not always be carried to divine heaven, but New Year pilgrimages and genuine prayers cement Vietnamese faith in hard work, good life, and determination.
Spring pilgrimages not only soothe the soul but also provide serene Buddhist scenery and help people pay tribute to heroes and deities for their deeds of national protection. After a grueling year of hard work, the spring allows people to relax, embrace the transition and welcome new good things ahead.