Part 2: Traditional custom of Vietnamese ethnics on Tet holiday

Nga Do
Each ethnic minority group has its own festivals, customs, beliefs and farming practice. For some ethnic minority groups, Tet festival lasts about half a month, during which time many exciting cultural and community activities take place. Following are traditional Tet festival customs of some ethnic minority groups in Vietnam.

6. Tet festival of Nung ethnic minority

An indispensable item on the tray of food to offer the ancestors at the night of the last day of the year, as well as in the feast during the Tet of Nung ethnic minority, is the meat of a castrated rooster. The rooster has to be raised separately before Tet few months and fed with rice only. In the morning of the first day of the New Year, the son-in-law has to bring two castrated roosters to offer his parents-in-law. “Banh khao” (sweet short cake) and five-colour steamed glutinous rice including five colours of red, yellow, white, green and violet are also two dishes, which can’t be lacked in the Tet feast of Nung ethnic minority.

The popular games during the New Year of the Nung ethnic minority are the “con” ball throwing game, shuttle cock kicking, duet singing between male and female, and traditional martial arts. Children usually play humming-top and lion dance.

7. Tet festival of H’mong ethnic minority

In December 25th and 26th, H’mong people start resting for Tet. Formerly, H’mong people didn't make chung cake (sticky rice cake) but they consider meat, wine and corn cake to be necessary for the Tet banquet. In the 30th evening of midnight, they worship their ancestors with a pig, a cock (a virginal one is the best). After that, they kill the pig and the cock. The cooked meat is worshipped then they enjoy the meal with wine until hearing the first crom of the cock. From the 1st day of the Lunar New Year on, H’mong people wear new clothes and shoes to go out. Con (còn) throwing is one of Tet folk games that they are very interested in. Besides, there are more activities such as khon (khốn) dancing, u (ụ) dancing, pipe singing, folk music singing, horse racing and cross-bow shooting.

Especially, talking about H’mong Tet, it can’t be lack of Sai San Festival, also known as Gau Tao Festival (praying festival), which is organized to respect ancestors of harvest, cattle and to pray for babies, happiness or longevity. If a family in the group has no children or their children are all either male or female, then the master of that household may ask the wizard to celebrate the Gau Tao festival- this is to ask for happiness. If another family whose members are always ill, the children are not living well or the crops often fail may also ask the wizard to hold the Gau Tao festival – this is to ask for luck for health and longevity.

8. Tet festival of Hre ethnic minority

The Tet festival of the Hre ethnic group, who live in Quang Ngai province, lasts for several months. Each family must make large quantities of Tet (cylindrical glutinous rice) cake, can wine and slaughter a buffalo to make a feast for guests, relatives and neighbours. To celebrate Tet, all the villagers gather at the house of the village chief to enjoy the banquet and offer him their best wishes. Afterwards, they visit each other’s houses in the hamlet. During Tet, the locals enjoy good food and drink can wine while dancing and singing.

The Hre have their own unique way of counting their age. Each year, when local people make Tet cake or serve guests during Tet, they wrap a plain cake without stuffing and have it as their individual portion. After eating this cake, they keep one leaf of the cake. They keep the leaves year after year, making them into a string that they hang from the main door of the house. The number of the leaves is equal to their age.

9. Tet festival of Thai ethnic minority

The Thai people in Son La and Lai Chau Provinces have a Têt season. The first one is Soong Sip Têt (New Rice Têt): when the rice is ripe in the field, the Thai people kill buffaloes and pigs, and cook new rice to make the offerings.

After Soong Sip Têt, they have Kim Mao Lao Têt (Drinking Têt), Ong Tao Têt (Kitchen God Têt) and Nen Buon Tien Têt (Nguyen Dan Têt). The most joyful festival is the Xoe Thai dancing festival which lasts until the middle of January.

10. Tet festival of San Chi ethnic minority 

When spring comes, the ethnic San Chi people start preparing for Tet (lunar New Year Festival). They make traditional food to offer to their ancestors during the holiday. Like other ethnic groups, San Chi people also erect Neu poles from Vau trees – symbols of spring – to pray for peace and prosperity. High Neu poles, they believe, will bring good business. Any house without a pole is not considered to be really celebrating Tet.

Before lowering the Neu poles, the San Chi ethnic group select an auspicious direction to pray for support from the spirits. Then the Tet holiday ends, the festival season begins.

11. Tet festival of Ede ethnic minority 

The Ede people are an ethnic minority group in Dac Lac province. Their harvest festival is called the Hua Esei Mrao. This celebration is usually held in October. During this time, the rice fields and milpas turn yellow and every family goes out to their fields to pick rice grains from the stalks. Then, they carry the rice in woven baskets back to the village where it is left out to dry in preparation for the harvest festival. Each household, depending on their economic conditions, can slaughter a number of buffaloes, oxen, pigs and cocks. Before the ceremony begins, the Ede arrange the offerings for worship which include one or two jars of can wine and some plates of boiled rice in the centre of the house. The jars of can wine are tied firmly to the pole of the house and the plates of rice are placed around them. The host or wizard, squatting in front of these offerings, presses his palms together in prayer.

The new rice festival is organized in every household in the village, one after another. Each ethnic group has a different way to welcome new spring. Traditional rituals, games and dishes of each group are all precious values which should be preserved and developed not only for cultural development but also for future generations.

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