Overview of traditional festivals
Festive activities are living museums in which typical cultural values of the nation have been preserved for centuries.
Formation and meaning of traditional festivals
Traditional festivals constitute a form of cultural activities, a spiritual product which the people have created and developed during the course of history. From generation to generation, the Vietnamese people preserve the fine tradition of Reremembering the source while drinking water. Festivals are events which represent this tradition of the community as well as honour the holy figures named as gods the real persons in national history or legendary persons. The images of gods converge the noble characteristics of mankind. They are national heroes who fought against foreign invaders, reclaimed new lands, treated people, fought against natural calamities, or those legendary characters who affect the earthly life. Festivals are events when people pay tribute to divinities that rendered merits to the community and the nation.
Festivals are occasions when people come back to either their natural or national roots, which form a sacred part in their mind.
Festivals represent the strength of the commune or village, the local region or even the whole nation. Worshipping the same god, the people unite in solidarity to overcome difficulties, striving for a happy and wealthy life.
Festivals display the demand for creativity and enjoyment of spiritual and material cultural values of all social strata. Festivals become a form of education under which fine traditional moral values can be handed from one generation to the next in a unique way of combining spiritual characters with competition and entertainment games.
Festivals are also the time people can express their sadness and worries in a wish that gods might bestow favour on them to help them strive for a better life.
Process of festivals
Generally speaking, every festival will include the following three steps:
Preparation: The preparation work is divided into two phases: prior to the coming festive season and in the immediate time before the festive day. The preparation work for the coming festive season starts right after the previous festival comes to an end. When it is coming to the festive day, people need to check the worshipping objects, attires, decoration, and cleaning of the worshipping place and statues.
The festive day: Many activities take place, including rituals of procession, incense offering, and rejoicing games, among others. They form the most important and significant part of any festival. These activities also play a decisive role in attracting tourists and deciding the timing of the festival itself.
The ending of the festival: The organization board expresses their thanks to all festival goers and closes the worshipping place.
Time for festivals
In Vietnam festivals often take place during the three months in spring and in autumn when people have a lot of leisure time. In addition, the climate in spring and autumn is especially suitable for holding festivals and for festivals goers to enjoy.
Some typical festival
Festivals require many compulsory rituals, which are carried out in a strict order from the preparation to the ending of a festival. In general, a festival has the following rituals:
Statue washing rite is performed at mid-night of the day before the festival. This rite is preceded by a ceremony of water procession in some places. A ceremony to inform gods must be held prior to this statue-washing rite.
Next is the rite of wearing hats and costumes for gods' statues or putting them in their worshipping tablets if gods have no statue. After that, the statues of gods (or worshipping tablets, even costumes) are put in the palanquin, ready for the procession on the opening of the festival.
Procession ritual: A festival often includes the procession of gods, tutelary gods, royal order and water, of which the first and fourth rite are most popular. The content and meaning of the procession ritual vary from festival to festival with regard to the object of procession, its organization and participants. The procession of gods and water processions are usually carried out prior to the opening and closing ceremonies of the festival accordingly.
Festivals, as mentioned above, are to honour holy figures, i.e. gods or divinities to whose temples and shrines are dedicated. Very often a festival takes place in the courtyard of the village's communal house which is spacious and convenient for the conduct of liturgical processes and rejoicing activities. As such, the ritual of god procession is held along the route from their places of worship to the place of liturgy. At the end of the festival, another procession will bring gods' statues back to their temples. After the procession ritual are the ritual of presenting offerings to gods and the opening of the festival. In many festivals, a procession of the oration dedicated to gods is held every day. Each day a different oration is used.
In traditional festivals it is required that participants in the procession ritual must be men above 18 years old who are selected carefully on the basis of their physical strength and good ethics. Women can join the procession group in such festivals as Phu Day or Ha Loi which dedicate to goddesses. Anyone who is chosen to become a member of the procession group must consider it his/her own honour and his/her family.
On its way, each procession bears its own symble. People beat drum and Gongs ( formerly firecrackers were used ) to signal the departure of the procession.
On the closing day of the festival, a final ritual is held with all processes required.
Kites that make music (dieu sao)
Kite flying is popular throughout the year in Viet Nam but especially so in summer. People of different ages make kites of many shapes, sizes and materials.
Children's kites are often small, simple and covered with paper, while adults' kites may be more complex, cloth-covered, and feature one or more wind flutes that play melodies as the kites fly.
A typical adult's kite has four parts: the body, the steering string, the flying string and flutes. The frame is made of the smooth outer bamboo stalk and is well polished. Kite-makers shape bamboo straps into a crescent two to three metres long and one metre wide. After that, they cover the frame with pieces of cotton cloth or carefully glued paper. If one half of the kite is heavier than the other, the steering string will help balance it. This string also serves lo direct flight and protect the kite wings from breaking if the wind is too strong. The flying string is also made of bamboo and can be as long as 100m to 150m. Young bamboo straps the size of chopsticks are tied together, then boiled in water or even in traditional Chinese medicine and salt so that the string becomes soft and flexible.
Kites not only attract people by their shapes and colours but also by their flutes. Flutes of different sizes and materials can make the sound of birds, car horns, gongs or music. The mouth of the flute must be skillfully carved so that it can properly receive the wind and create the desired sound.
Today, villagers build more sophisticated kites in the shape of phoenixes, butterflies and dragons. They replace thick bamboo strings with thinner bamboo or plastic rope. Modern kites are very light and cost little since the materials to make them are readily available.
People often fly kites in the late afternoon as the sun begins to set. Normally, two people fly one kite. One person holds the flying string while the other takes the kite and runs into the wind until the wind lifts the kite.
The two may keep the kite high in the sky from day to day, even from summer to autumn.
Every year, kite-flying competitions take place in many northern and central provinces. The rules vary from place to place. In general, the most beautiful kite with the most interesting flute melodies wins. However, Quang Yen Townlet (Quang Ninh Province) holds a kite-fighting competition: regardless of design, kites that hit or break other kites win.
Battle of the Chickens (choi ga)
Cock fighting, a long-standing form of popular entertainment, is organised during traditional festivals throughout Vietnam.
Raising roosters for cockfighting requires heavy investments in time and labour. Professional trainers choose young chickens carefully, individually preparing their food and drink, bathing them, separating them from hens, and training them in fighting positions. A fighting cock must be so acquainted with its owner that it will allow only the owner to hold him. Fighting cocks, which come from three main species, are colloquially called "sacred chickens" or "combat roosters". Black roosters with a red comb and a long neck are full of stamina and will fight to the bitter end. White roosters with ivory-coloured feet and round yellow eyes are hot-tempered and perform "lightning battles". Also popular are "five-coloured cocks" coated with black, yellow, brown, red and blackish blue feathers. They fight with flexibility and often run away if they lose.
The owners prepare a 1.5m-wide ring walled by a 20cm-high bamboo screen. Spectators stand outside the screen. Only the owners of the fighting cocks are allowed to enter the area to care for their animals. A rooster loses if it leaves the ring twice and does not return.
Before a cockfight begins, owners agree on the terms among themselves. They compare the size, weight and combat achievements of their roosters. If one rooster has longer spurs, its rival is allowed to wear artificial spurs. After the discussion and agreement, the owners bring their birds into the ring. The cocks are kept in two separate halves of the ring until a signal is given to start the fight. Cocks usually attempt some trial feints to gauge their competitor's reactions before giving mortal thrashings: a double kick against the rival's body, a cut to the neck using spurs, or pecking out the rival's eyes.
The fight continues until one bird is defeated. Contestants time the rounds by burning an incense slick or draining water can with a hole in it.
Vietnamese cockfights have two forms of compensation. In one version, the loser pays an agreed-upon sum lo the winner; in the other, the loser forfeits both money and the defeated bird.