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Saturday, September 26, 2020

An outline of folk festivals in Vietnam

Updated: 09:14’ - 10/11/2005



Institute of Folk Culture

1. In Vietnam as in most countries and nations in the world, folk festival is a typical community cultural activity and a picture which gathers the most original cultural characteristics of the nation. The folk festivals are composed of two basic elements:

+ Rituals to honor the memory of the genies who have long become the sacred symbols of the community.

+ Festival: entertaiments and recreative activities and games of a profound community and customary character reflecting the deep-rooted sense of community. That is why, folk festivals have long become a symbol of the community strength (community of destiny and feelings).

Vietnam has very numerous and very diversified festivals. Almost all villages, all regions and all ethnic groups have their own festivals which are held almost every month. They are diversified because each and every festival has their own originality. Thus, a spring festival differs from an autumn festival and a festival of one ethnic group differs from that of another group, and this diversity is also found in the festivals of different villages in the same region:

“Boat race of Dam village, palankeen procession of Gia village, festival of Thay pagoda,

“Merry as they are, they can’t compare to the black-out festival of La village”.

2. Originally the festivals were closely associated with the traditional trades of the population. Since all ethnic groups in Vietnam practice agriculture, these festivals are based mainly on the agricultural calendar and the seasons of the year. Festivals are held in almost all the months in a year, but the main festivals and also most festivals are held in spring and autumn, hence the phrase “twice yearly in Spring and Autumn”. According to the traditional agricultural calendar of all ethnic groups in Vietnam, Spring is the opening of the year and also the beginning of the cropping season (from the 1st to the 3rd lunar month), while Autumn is the season of harvest (from the 8th to the 10th lunar month). Between Autumn and Spring is the time of rest and relaxation, the idle time, the time for recreation and festivals. However, the Spring festivals are always the most numerous and most jubilant, drawing the most participants and festival-goers. In the North Vietnam delta alone, of the bestknown festivals in a year, 99 are held in Spring, only 21 are held in Autumn.

The most important festivals are:

+ The Lunar New Year Festival.

+ The Dong Da Victory Festival (5th day of 1st lunar month, Ha Noi).

+ The Chua Huong Festival (begins on the 6th day of 1st lunar month and last until the end of Spring).

+ The Lim Festival (13th day of 1st lunar month, Ha Bac).

+ The Den Va Festival (6th day of 1st lunar month, Ha Tay).

+ The Den Hung Festival(10th day of 3rd lunar month, Vinh Phu).

+ The Phu Giay Festival (10th day of 3rd lunar month, Nam Ha).

+ The Truong Yen Festival (15th day of 3rd lunar month, Ninh Binh).

+ The Grave Abandon rituals of the ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands.

+ The Ba Den Mount Spring Festival (15th day of 1st lunar month, the Lady Xu Memorial Festival in An Giang (South Vietnam).

The main autumn festivals are:

+ The Mid-Autumn Festival (15th day of 8th lunar month).

+ The Buffalo Fighting Festival at Do Son (10th day of 8th lunar month, Haiphong).

+ The Dong Ky Firecracker Festival (6th day of 1st lunar month, Ha Bac).

+ The Kiep Bac Temple Festival (20th day of 8th lunar month, Hai Hung).

+ The Bao Loc Festival (20th day of 8th lunar month, Nam Ha).

+ The Dong Bang Festival (20th day of 8th lunar month, Thai Binh).

+ Hon Chen Temple Festival in Hue.

+ The Kate Festival of the Cham (October).

+ Ok Ang Bok (Greetings to the Moon) of the Khmer in southern Vietnam.

The Spring festivals are often associated with rituals to pray the genies or deities to bless the community, the families and each individual in cultivation, in handicrafts, in business or in childbirth, for good health, etc. These are also occasions for pilgrimages and travelling and visits to the landscapes and historic monuments, such as the Chua Huong pagoda, Chua Thay, Bich Dong... Even the games and entertainments in these spring festivals have a profound folklore character.

The Autumn festivals are mostly occasions for thanksgiving and the offering of newly harvested farm produce (such as the Festival of New Rice). For the Khmer in southern Vietnam, the Ok Ang Bok Festival is to greet and thank the Moon after harvest time and at the end of the flood season. For the Viets in the North Vietnam plain, the most important festival is the pilgrimage to the Temple of Lady Store Keeper in Ha Bac in the last months of the lunar year.

3. The scope and size of the festivals also differ greatly. Most popular are the village festivals organized at the village communal house where the Tutelary Genie is worshipped. It is joined by practically all the villagers and even people from neighboring villages.

Apart from the festivals associated with agriculture, there are also festivals to honor the memory of the patron saints of various trades and handicrafts, such as:

- The patron saint of herbal medicine in Da Si village (Ha Dong).

- The patron saint of silver carving in Dong Sam (Thai Binh).

- The patron saint of carpentry in Bao Ha (Dong Minh, Haiphong).

- The patron saint of silk-weaving in Van Sa village (Ha Tay).

- The patron saint of Tuong treater in Tu Duong (Hue).

- The patron saint of smithery at Hien Luong village (Hue)...

During such festivals before the worshipping of the patron saints, there are entertainments and games related to the crafts, display of arts and crafts, contests of skills.

In the villages bordering major rivers especially in the coastal areas, the festivals are often related to fishery and the worshipping of the gods or goddesses of water, such as:

- The Do Son Festival (Haiphong) where in the past buffaloes fighting were held and later the losing buffalo was killed as tribute to the Genie of Water.

- The Fishermen Festival at Van Vi (Ha Tay) to honor the worship of the genie Ha Ba, the benefactor of fishermen.

- The Cau Ngu (Prayer for a plenty catch) Festival in Thai Dung (Hue).

- The festivals in honor of Genie Whale in many coastal villages of Central Vietnam.

- The Nghinh Co Festival in Vung Tau.

- The Nghinh Ong (Welcome Genie Whale) in several coastal areas of Southern Vietnam.

- In some ethnic minorities in the mountainous regions, there are festivals associated with hunting and livestock breeding. The Mnong still celebrate the killing of the 100th wild animal (Buh Brah Poach) and keep intact the whole set of rituals related to elephant hunting and taming (cutting the tusks, tending a sick elephant or hunting a herd of elephants...).

3. However, most typical are the historic festivals which are in fact historic versions of the agricultural and village festivals. Among the historic festivals, first mention should be made of those dedicated to the historic figures and heroic personalities of the nation:

+ The Den Hung Temple Festival dedicated to the Hung Kings, the founders of the nation.

+ The Va Temple Festival dedicated to the Genie of Tan Vien Mount.

+ The An Duong Vuong Temple dedicated to the king who defeated the aggression by the army of Thuc Phan.

+ The Saint Giong Festival in honor of the legendary child hero who defeated the An aggressors.

+ The Sisters Trung Festival in Ha Tay and Hanoi.

+ The Truong Yen Festival (Ninh Binh) in memory of Dinh Bo Linh who had the merit of unifying the different territories of ancient Vietnam and founded the Dinh dynasty, the first dynasty in Vietnam.

+ The Kiep Bac, Dong Bang and Bao Loc Festivals, all associated with the exploits of the national hero Tran Hung Dao.

+ The Dong Da Battle Festival in memory of King Quang Trung who defeated the Ching occupationist army in Hanoi.

+ The Lang Ong Festival (Saigon) in memory of General Le Van Duyet in the fight against the French invasion at the end of the 19th century.

There are also a series of festivals and a system of rituals of a local character associated with local personalities who distinguished themselves either by military exploits or literary talents or by their contributions to the local economic, social and cultural development.

In many instances, the inhabitants of several villages worship the same genie who is usually a historic personality, which is why the festival is held on the same day in a whole region. This is the case of the Mountain Genie Tan Vien in Ba Vi district (Hanoi), the Hung kings in Vinh Phu, The Trung Sisters (Vinh Phu and Ha Tay), Saint Giong (Hanoi and Ha Bac), the national hero Tran Hung Dao (Nam Ha and Thai Binh)... In such cases, one village will hold the main festival and the worshipping ceremony, the others hold the socalled “tho vong” (worship from afar). In most cases, these villages are twinned and organized mutual visits on these occasions.

During the festivals in memory of the national heroes or historic personages, besides the worshipping rituals, there are also the re-enactment of historic events such as the fight to drive out the An aggressors during the Saint Giong Festival, the military exercise under the command of King Dinh Bo Linh during the Truong Yen Festival (Ninh Binh) or the reenacting of the Bach Dang Naval Battle under the command of Tran Hung Dao during the Kiep Bac Festival, or the demonstration of martial arts and a swimming contest during the Sisters Trung Festival reenacting the military drill of the insurrectionist army under the command of the Trung Sisters before engaging the Han aggressors.

According to the results of researches, many historic festivals had one been agricultural festivals and the national heroes and heroines were later deified to become genies and gods or goddesses. Therefore, even today, it is not difficult to trace the remote agricultural origins of the folk festivals in the North Vietnam delta. To integrate the folk legends with the national history is one of the most salient traits of the Vietnamese folk culture. This also explains the propensity of the folk festivals to proliferate from one village to another and from one region to another and even to the whole country, as is the case of the Saint Giong Festival and the Trung Sisters Festival.

5. Also in the majority of cases, the festivals bear a distinctive religious character. This is quite visible in the temple, pagoda and communal house festivals.

+ The communal house festival is invariably dedicated to the village titulary genie who is supposed to preside over the destiny of the village: “Each village beats its own tomtom; Each village worships its own titulary genie”, says a popular proverb.

+ The pagoda festival is a Buddhist event which is held primarily on two occasions in a year, “Entry into Summer” and “Exit from Summer”.

Associated with the “Four Immortals”, namely Tan Vien, Giong, Chu Dong Tu and the Saint Mother are four big festivals, i.e. Den Va, Giong, Chu Dong Tu and Phu Giay. For Taoism, the festivals are held in a number of temples, primarily on two occasions, in the 8th and 3rd lunar months. The festival in the 8th month is dedicated to the Father and the one in the 3rd month is dedicated to the Mother. The Father is the Celestial Emperor and also General Tran Hung Dao, and the Mother is the Saint Mother Lieu Hanh, a half-goddess.

In a word, the popular festivals are the reproduction of the past life in the form of games, entertainment, production, fighting and recreation of the farmers. However, life cannot become festivals had it not been merged with the world of the spiritual, the supernatural and symbolism, the world of aspirations and ideals where everything would be sacred, beautiful and noble.

Originating from the Village Festival closely associated with agricultural activities, the popular festivals have steeped themselves in the flow of history and the exploits of the fights against foreign aggressions and enriched themselves with new social and cultural values to assume the present diversity and high level of humanism and nationality.-



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