Discovering the Tet holiday of Red Dao people in northern Vietnam
VOV.VN - A new spring has come, and the Red Dao ethnic people of the mountainous northern province of Yen Bai are celebrating their Lunar New Year holiday (Tet) in their own way.
After a hard-working year, the Lunar New Year holiday offers local people the chance to gather together, review what their achievements, and show gratitude to the ancestors for their blessings over the past year. For that reason, the Red Dao people in Yen Bai prepare themselves a very decent and full holiday.
The last day of the lunar year is the time when the Red Dao people in Vien Son commune of Van Yen district begin to sweep the house and clean up the ancestral altar. This is a fine traditional custom which they believe will serve to sweep away the bad luck of the old year, and bring good luck in the coming year, with their heart turning towards the nation’s roots.
After the year-end party, family members normally bathe and wash themselves with water purified from 12 medicinal herbs which are picked up by the woman from the forest early in the morning. They then don their most beautiful traditional costumes in order to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
During this sacred moment, all family members line up in front of the ancestral altar. The house owner, on behalf of the family, then burns three incense sticks on the ancestral altar and asks for permission to lower a bowl of water and give each person a sip, believing that such a custom will bring them better health. They also pray for wealth, good weather, and good crops.
On New Year’s Eve, the Red Dao people do not leave their home, but instead gather together to wait for the new year and wish each other good luck.
“For the Red Dao people, New Year’s Eve is very important. Before that, the ancestral altar must be tidied up, with offerings such as incense, flowers, fruit, cakes, candy, tea, and tobacco to be prepared to invite their ancestors to celebrate Tet with their children and grandchildren and bless them with a healthy, happy, and prosperous new year. Despite a modern life today, the traditional culture of our nation must always be preserved and promoted to future generations,” says Nguyen Ton Nam, a local resident of Khe Lo village in Vien Son commune.
Immediately from the early morning on New Year’s Day, all families are busy preparing dishes to offer to their ancestors. While slaughtering pigs and chickens is done by men, making sticky rice, picking vegetables, and cooking is done by women. Everything is done quickly so the offerings are prepared and then swiftly placed on the ancestral altar. After the ritual, relatives and neighbours are invited to enjoy the meal, making the Tet atmosphere even more joyful and warm.
“On the morning of New Year’s Day, according to custom, the whole family will prepare a decent meal to celebrate the start of the new year. Then each family member must burn a joss paper as soon as they leave the house, hoping to drive away bad luck and bring them good luck,” says Trieu Ton Pham, a local resident of Lang Moi village in Dai Son commune.
Ancestor worship is the most important thing during the Tet holiday. In the offering tray of the Red Dao people, in addition to wine, pork, and chicken, bánh dày (round sticky rice cake) is indispensable. This shows one’s gratitude to the ancestors and gods who have blessed the house owner over a past year with a bumper harvest. After everything is presented, the shaman then begins to perform the ritual to express the wishes of the children and grandchildren to the ancestors and pray for a healthy and lucky new year ahead.
After the ritual, the dishes will then be enjoyed by family members alongside relatives and neighbours. The belief is that the more crowded the party is, then the better the family’s business will be. This is the main reason why the Red Dao people’s Tet meals are always crowded, further adding to community cohesion.
Besides the party, young people singing and dancing together next to the cinnamon forests bring a prosperous life to local people.