Vietnam’s loudest and craziest festival takes place from the 4th to the 6th of February in the Lunar Calendar. People come from all over the north of Vietnam to participate in this vibrant celebration, which includes a firecracker competition, some traditional games and a fertility ritual.
A Dong Ky’s firecracker (Source: Internet)
The firecracker competition
This huge social occasion means a lot to people in Dong Ky Village, who spend months in preparation. Since the firecrackers are offerings for gods, their sizes are kept secret among the families taking part in the competition. It is believed that the louder the firecracker explodes, the luckier it is for the family who made it. They usually take the shape of an Asian dragon with a lotus in its mouth.
In the early morning, on the roads that lead to the village’s temple, there is a crowd of people laughing and shouting. They are trying to get a glimpse of the huge firecrackers on portable shrines that are being paraded through the town. The parade consists of the five firecrackers of the contest. The shrines are carried by dozens of locals outfitted in bright red traditional robes. The village’s elders, a marching band, and a colorful guard accompany these palanquins.
A portable shrine (Source: Internet)
The firecracker parade is often presented to outsiders as a joyful and noisy celebration, but it is also a serious religious affair. As thunder is an indication of rain, a crucial factor in the cultivation of rice, the sound of a firecracker, which loosely models the roar of thunder is believed to bring rainfall. These are also offerings for gods in exchange for their blessings for the village.
The temple yard is the main venue of the competition, where contestants take turns lighting up their firecrackers. Each one dressing in white pants, a red scarf, and a red belt holds 3 incense sticks and approaches the altar. After bowing three times, they set off the firecrackers amongst the yell of thousands of festivalgoer.
When the firecracker explodes (Source: Internet)
The celebration also features some traditional games such as wrestling, cock fighting, and blind man’s bluff. The most interesting one is called bat chach trong chum. To play this game, five to seven jars of water with an eel in them are lined up in a yard. Players go in pairs with a male and a female. The woman holds the man’s waist by her right hand the man puts his left hand on his partner’s breast. The two must catch the eel in the jar while holding their position. The first pair to catch the fish are the winners and they are awarded silk scarfs, betel, areca, and sometimes money.
"Bat chach trong chum" - a traditional game (Source: Internet)
The fertility ritual
On the last day of the festival, a parade takes place as part of the fertility ritual. It is led by an elder who has both sons and daughters. He holds a disembodied phallus and yoni in his hands to perform a traditional ritual at the sacred alter. He then does the “yin and yang dance” and crosses the phallus and yoni three times. At the end of the ceremony, the elder tosses the two into the air and festivalgoers will jump out to be the first to catch them.
This annual festival is held to pray for an abundant harvest and celebrate the proliferation of life. Although it has decreased in size and scale in recent years, it still maintains the core and the spirit of a major celebration in Northern Vietnam.
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