Fruit tray adds more color to Tet

“Mam Ngu Qua” (five-fruit tray) on the ancestral altar during the traditional Lunar New Year Festival shows the family’s gratitude to the Heaven, the Earth and the ancestors, as well as their wish for prosperity.

The traditional Lunar New Year Festival (Tet Nguyen Dan or Tet), is the most important and popular holiday in Vietnam. It is a relaxing and special occasion for everyone to think about what they achieved in the past year and plan for the New Year.

For a long time, together with parallel sentences written on crimson paper, ornamental kumquat and peach trees, and popular Hang Trong and Dong Ho pictures, the five‑fruit tray prepared for Tet has become a spiritual symbol, an original national product in the spiritual life of the Vietnamese.

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Five-fruit tray in the north

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At present, while many of the ancient spiritual values have sunk into oblivion, the custom of arranging the five‑fruit tray on the altar during the lunar New Year days is being jealously preserved as a fine legacy of Vietnam's traditional culture. The buying of votive offerings and the decoration of ancestral altars during the Tet holiday are closely connected with the rituals of worship practised by the Vietnamese to show their respect for the ancestors.

In addition to such traditional dishes and products as fat pork, salted onions, red parallel sentences, strings of fireworks and square-shaped sticky rice cakes, each family displays a five‑fruit tray on the ancestral altar.

On New Year’s Eve, the Vietnamese, either rich or poor, consider it very important to select the best fruits for five different kinds and place them on a red-lacquered wooden tray in a balanced cone and in harmonious colours. Fruits that may be laid out on the tray include bananas, finger citrons, watermelons, oranges, kumquats, coconuts, apples, persimmons or tomatoes, and chilis. Each kind of fruit has its own indication. A hand of green bananas or a finger citron, for example, symbolizes one's wish for the protection of supernatural powers and ancestors, jackfruits and watermelons indicate fertility, and kumquats or persimmons connote wealth and prosperity.

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Five-fruit tray in the south
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According to the traditional custom, the five fruits are symbolic of the five basic elements of oriental philosophy - metal, wood, water, fire and soil. A five-fruit tray, though varying from one region to another due to differences in climate, lights up altars with their ample colours.

In northern areas, five-fruit trays ornamented with jackfruits, peaches, kumquats, bananas and persimmons are relatively smaller than those in southern areas with pairs of watermelons, coconuts, papayas, custard apples, mangos, and figs.

Improvements in people's living conditions in recent years have led to a greater sophistication in choosing fruits for the altar during the Tet holiday. A tray may contain more expensive, rarer fruits like grapes and pears, but all in all it is still a five-fruit tray, a nice offering of the Vietnamese people to their ancestors. It not only displays a life-long tradition but also sends a message of hope for happiness, good luck and prosperity for the New Year.

The concept of “Mam Ngu Qua” is based on a traditional saying in Vietnam “Ăn quả nhớ kẻ trồng cây” that means when taking fruits, you should think of the grower.