Monday, February 19, 2007

Component in "TET" holiday

Cay neu is a bamboo pole (New Year's Tree) stripped of its leaves except for a tuft on top. Red paper is used to decorate the tree, which is planted outside the house during the Tet holiday. The cay neu has Taoist origins and holds talismanic objects that clang in the breeze to attract good spirits and repel evil ones. On the very top, they frequently place a paper symbol of yin and yang, the two principal forces of the universe. Sometimes a colorful paper carp flag will fly from the top. The carp (or sometimes a horse) is the vehicle on which the Kitchen God travels to make his report. This tree is more common in the countryside now than in the city. It is ceremonially removed after the seventh day of Tet.

Vietnamese Peach Blossoms (Hoa Dao)

According to Vietnamese legend, once upon a time, in the East of the Soc Son Mountain, North Vietnam, existed a gigantic peach tree. The tree was so huge that its shadow extended through out a large area of land. Up on the tree, lived two powerful deities, Tra and Uat Luy. They protected the people of the land in the surrounding areas from the devils. The devils were so afraid of these two deities that even the sight of the peach tree haunted them.

However, at the end of every lunar year, these two deities had to fly back to heaven for an annual meeting with the Jade Emperor. During this time, the devils took advantage of this opportunity to harass the peaceful inhabitants. To fight the battle against these devils, people came up with the ideas of display a branch of the Peach tree in the house to scare away the devils. Since then it becomes a custom of the North Vietnamese to have a branch of a Peach tree during Tet season to protect themselves against the Satan soldiers. Those who don't have Peach tree can draw the figures of the two deities, Tra and Uat Luy, on red paper, and display them in front of the house.

Hoa Mai

While Peach tree is preferred in the North, Hoa Mai is more commonly used for this ceremony in the South because of the warm weather. Hoa Mai is a small, yellow flowering plant that is used for decoration during Tet with the meanings of prosperity and well-being for the family. The value of these flowers is determined by the number of petals - the more petals, the more expensive the flower.

Kumquat Trees

Kumquat trees about two or three feet tall are carefully selected and prominently displayed during Tet. To carefully choose a kumquat bush, the buyer must pay attention to the symmetrical shape, to the leaves and to the color and shape of the fruit. The bushes have been precisely pruned to display ripe deep orange fruits with smooth clear thin skin shining like little suns or gold coins on the first day of the lunar new year. Other fruits must still be green to ripen later. This represents the wish that wealth will come to you now and in the future. The leaves must be thick and dark green with some light green sprouts. The fruits represent the grandparents, the flowers represent parents, the buds represent children and the light green leaves represent grandchildren. The tree thus symbolizes many generations. Guests will caress the light green leaves about to sprout and compliment the discerning host who chose so carefully.

The "Mam Ngu Qua"

The "five-fruit tray" on the ancestral altar during the Tet holiday symbolizes the admiration and gratitude of the Vietnamese to Heaven and Earth and their ancestors, and demonstrates their aspiration for a life of plenty. As one theory goes, the five fruits are symbolic of the five basic elements of oriental philosophy: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. Some people believe that the five fruits are symbols of the five fingers of a man's hand that is used to produce physical wealth for his own use and to make offerings to his ancestors. However, in a simpler way, the five fruits represent the quintessence that Heaven and Earth bless humans. This is one of the general perceptions of life of the Vietnamese, which is "When taking fruit, you should think of the grower". Today, the tray may contain five or more fruits, in the form of a pyramid like before or in an different shape. Regardless, it is still called the Mam Ngu Qua, the five-fruit tray.

Fire Crackers

The most exciting element in the celebration of Tet is the lighting of trang phao (fire crackers). These explosions are believed to drive off ghosts and evil spirits and leave good luck in their place. As thousands of households simultaneously partake in this fantastic part of Tet, the level of volume and excitement rises to a fury. This level of emotion is the most memorable part of Tet and also the part which makes it such a marvelous experience. However, firecrackers are no longer used as the government banned them in 1995.

Banh Chung

It is a square cake, wrapped in banana leaves and tied with laces of flexible bamboo slivers. It is a very rich food for the interior contains a filling of bean paste to which may be added small bits of pork meat, both fat and lean. This filling, which is amply seasoned, is pressed between layers of glutinous rice. Its square shape is considered a symbol of the thankfulness of the Vietnamese people for the great abundance of the Earth, which has supplied them with nutritious food throughout the four seasons of the year.

Cau Doi (Parallels)

Composing, challenging and displaying parallels represents an elegant cultural activity of the Vietnamese. On the occasion of Tet, parallels are written on red paper and hung on both sides of the gate, the pillars or the ancestral altar. Each pair of parallels has an equal number of words with contrasting or corresponding meanings and lines of verses. They show a keen intelligence, perception of nature and social life, uphold morality and a yearning for the well-being of all people. The red is symbolic of auspicious and powerful vitality, according to popular belief. Mingling with the green of the banh chung, the pink of the peach blooms, the yellow of the hoa mai, and the red of the parallels is sure to make the Spring warmer and cozier.

Xin Xam

After Giao Thua, the last day of the lunar calendar year, many Buddhists go to their favorite pagoda to pray for a good year and to get a fortune reading for the whole year. Each person will get a chance to shake the tube that contains reading sticks, until one stick falls out of the tube. In the case that many sticks drop out of the tube, that person will have to repeat the process. Afterwards, usually the monks will translate the meanings of the reading.

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