From old loves to lost loved ones, the Vietnamese have a festival for pretty much every occasion.
While in some Western cultures it’s not uncommon to celebrate the end of a serious relationship with a restraining order or lengthy court battle, the northern hill tribes of Vietnam are different.
Here, when a couple decide to part ways, they do so with something called ‘goodwill’. This can be seen firsthand at a tiny local festival known as Khau Vai Love Market, which surrounding villages attend. Held on the 26th and 27th of the 3rd lunar month every year, it’s famous for giving once loved-up couples the chance to look back fondly on old memories.
The nationwide festival of Tet (Vietnamese New Year), on the other hand, shuts the whole country down. ‘Tet’ is shortened from Tết Nguyên Đán, which means ‘Feast of the First Morning of the First Day’. It normally takes place at the end of January or early February. It’s a time of close family get togethers. This means food. Lots and lots of food.
One of the most important dishes to feature here is ‘Banh Chung’, made by shaping glutinous rice, pork and mung beans into square cakes wrapped in banana leaves. Once steamed, this savoury treat is able to last a whole month at room temperature (necessary when there’s no fridge). Another key dish is ‘Thit Ga’ or ‘Boiled Chicken’ – offered to ancestors in tribute meals. This is served with sticky rice (xoi) and cooked with gac fruit to give it a lucky red colour.
One downside to this relative extravagance, however, is that Vietnamese stomachs are not used to the unfamiliar levels of fat and protein. In this case, a specially-prepared batch of pickled onions is on hand to help.
The rich food is mandatory. Why? Because the Vietnamese believe the quality of their Tet celebrations – including their behaviour around it – will dictate their luck for the following year. This comes with a very practical advantage – absolutely argument-free families. Christmas, take note.
Every year, Vietnamese honour their deceased ancestors with Than Minh, aka Holiday of the Dead Festival. Before it takes place on the 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month, family members tend to loved ones’ graves by cleaning them and making offerings of food, flowers and incense.
Sticking with a macabre vibe, later on in the year, in August, Trung Nguyen is celebrated – the Day of All Wandering Souls. Here, it’s thought spirits of the dead visit the home of their offspring. Similarly to Than Minh, food is offered on house-shaped altars for the souls of the dead.
Probably one of the most auspicious dates in the Vietnamese calendar is 30th April – Liberation Day. Marking the 1975 fall of Saigon, the end of the Vietnam War and, perhaps most importantly, the reunion of North and South Vietnam. To celebrate, in the festival lead-up, major cities unfurl the bunting and erect eye-popping banners and lights, parades are held and on the day itself folk spend it with family.
From those on-good-terms ex-lovers to bereaved mourners, the Vietnamese love nothing more than a good festival to venerate the important things in life.< Go Back