If you want to travel Vietnam like a local, the best way to do so is to attend the spectacular festivals that are thrown throughout the year. Get up close and personal with the spiritual lives of the Vietnamese people, to greater understand this traditional country.
Many celebrations are nationwide events but some are native to certain provinces, below are a list of some of the festivals you might encounter (depending what time of year you come) on your North Vietnam group tour.
Vietnamese holidays are vibrant and joyous occasions (Source: Internet)
Celebrated throughout all of Vietnam and internationally, is the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, known as Tet holiday. It’s the biggest and most important celebration of the year, marking the beginning of spring. The full name, Tet Nguyen Dan, translates to “feast of the first morning of the first day”. As well as being a New Year celebration, Tet marks growing another year older to the Vietnamese. Unlike western cultures, it is believed that age is determined by the start of the new lunar year, not by day of birth.
Tet falls on a different date each year, according to the lunar calendar, normally between the last week of January and the third week of February. In 2019 Tet will be on February 5th and in 2020 it will be on January 25th. Although the festivities and public holiday will last for around a week!
The cities empty during Tet, as the majority of people return to their hometowns and families. Most businesses will be closed; particularity in smaller cities that practically become ghost towns, making it a struggle to find food.
Tet is a special time for the Vietnamese to welcome in the New Year surrounded by family, to thank the gods for the arrival of spring, and to pay respects to their ancestors. Tet is a time for fresh starts, houses will be cleaned, and new clothes purchased, or even a start of a new career. Li Xi or lucky money is given to children and the elderly during Tet. Sealed in a red envelope, as in Asian cultures red symbolizes prosperity and happiness.
A young boy and his mother admiring Tet decorations (Source: Internet)
Like a Christmas tree to the west, every house at Tet will usually be decorated with a tree. In the south, they have yellow Mai Flower trees and on a North Vietnam package tour, you’ll see pink Peach Flower trees. A common tree that is featured throughout the entire country is the Kumquat fruit tree. In the lead up to Tet, you’ll see an array of different sized trees attached to the backs of motorbikes; some seem larger than the bike itself!
A popular delicacy to be enjoyed on Tet is the Banh Chung, a sweet sticky rice and meat creation, wrapped in a leaf, and boiled for half a day. According to legends, the snack was created by a young prince, thousands of years prior, during the Hung dynasty. The king was so in awe of the delicious but simple rice treat that he made the boy the heir to his throne.
A family choosing their tree (source: Internet)
Vu Lan Festival
Vu Lan festival, also known as Vietnamese mother’s day or Trung Nguyen, is the second biggest festival in Vietnam. Held on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, Vietnamese people go to sacred pagodas to worship and leave offerings for their ancient ancestors. They also release birds and fish back into the wild to symbolize wandering souls returning home. During the Buddhist festival, they also express their gratitude and love to their mothers by presenting her with gifts or flowers. They also release lanterns at night as they believe this act will grant their parents’ wishes.
The traditional Buddhist celebration began when an avid disciple of Buddha called Muc Kien Lien, whilst meditating witnessed his mother being tormented by the burning fires of hell. He used all the spiritual power that he possessed to gift his poor mother with a humble bowl of rice, but the flames of hell burnt every grain to dust. Once he returned to the physical world he begged Buddha for his help and he suggested forming a prayer circle of powerful monks and devotees to help his mother and other poor unfortunate soul’s quest for mercy. Their wishes were granted and his mother and the other souls were set free for 24 hours. This is why the festival today is so heavily devoted to showing respect and devotion to your mother.
A sea of lanterns during Vu Lan festival (Source: Internet)
Khau Vai Love Market
In the most Northern Province of Ha Giang, 500 kilometers from the busy streets of Hanoi, every year an unusual love market is held. Loving spouses journey to the Khau Vai commune to meet up with… their past partners! A notion that would make many couples blood boil and consume them with jealousy. However, this festival is a completely innocent event that was inspired by a story as old as time, of forbidden love. It has now, centuries later, become an attraction for domestic and international tourists to celebrate love and the vibrant culture of the Ha Giang ethnic minority tribes.
The legend goes that a young couple from different hill tribes fell deeply in love. As they often do, the love story soon took a tragic turn for the worse, the two tribes disagreed over whether the lovers should wed, resulting in violent battles and much bloodshed. To keep the peace the heartbroken couple agreed to part ways and sacrificed their own happiness for the good of their people. Unable to face a future that they would never meet again, they divided a plan to meet every March 26th according to the lunar calendar. The lovers thought that if they couldn’t spend their lives together, they would at least spend a day together and so inspired the festival. Ethnic minority couples from near and far come to meet old flames and reminisce over cherished memories of their past relationship.
Many ceremonies take place over the two days including rain worshiping traditions, to foresee the crop projection of the year. A popular ceremony features a half day of boiling rice, to then search through the fluffy grains searching for happiness and love. Folk dance performances, games, and traditional colorful costumes are what make this event so special. The love market will be next held on February 5th to 6th 2019 then January 25th to 16th 2020.
A traditional dance performance (Source: Internet)