Beautiful Vietnam
Fest to stamp out pests
  • | | June 17, 2010 09:05 AM

Tet Doan Ngo is one of the most popular festivals in Vietnam, and one of the most unusual. On this day, people gather together, not to cheer for some historical hero, but to kill pests. Lan Hieu gives the lowdown.

A breakfast with fruits on Doan Ngo Festival is a traditional custom of local people
Buying fruits for the special breakfast
Decorating for a fruit festival at Suoi Tien Park
Eating violet rice wine on Doan Ngo Festival day is believed to help ward off diseases

Translated literally, Tet means festival, Doan means the start, and Ngo, the sun at noon. Tet Doan Ngo is one of the most popular annual festivals in the country.

Tet Doan Ngo (or Duanwu Festival according to the Mandarin Chinese pronunciation) is believed to have originated in ancient China. There are a number of theories about its origins. Today, the best and most widely known legend relates to the death of Qu Yuan, a scholar and minister to the King of Chu, in 278 BC. Being unable to advise his King in the war against the Qin, Qu Yuan had thrown himself into the river on the 5th of May according to the Lunar Calendar. Chinese people hold an annual festival on this day to commemorate him. Duanwu Festival is also celebrated widely in Hong Kong, Macau and South Korea.

In Vietnam however, few people know about the Qu Yuan legend. People often call Tet Doan Ngo by another name, “Pest Exterminating Festival”, for obvious reasons. The festival also occurs on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month which is the beginning of summertime - a ripe time for pests and parasites. This day is dedicated to getting rid of as many of them as possible. This day is also said to be the death anniversary of National Mother Au Co. (a brief mention of who she was/what she's famous for would be good to mention)

This year, Tet Doan Ngo falls on June 16.

In the morning during Tet Doan Ngo, children paint their nails red using an extract from a kind of medical herb called lá móng. They rub their necks and navel with some lime juice, and hang an amulet around their neck.

The day starts with a special breakfast of fruit and violet rice wine. Strong-tasting fruits such as plums, mangos, and litchi are the traditional favourites. This breakfast, together with the extract of lá móng, lime juice and amulet were considered helpful in warding off bad spirits and diseases.

After breakfast, everyone has to take a bath. To prepare for this “activity”, parents boil a big pot of water with different kinds of medicinal herbs, like grapefruit leaves, lemon leaves, bamboo leaves, and basil. The bath is believed to help wash away all heat rashes and pimples as the hot weather sets in.

Next, while parents are busy preparing a lunch party, children are sent to the garden to help kill all garden pests and to protect the trees. People believe that by taking care of trees on this special day, the orchards will be more fruitful.

The most popular dish in Doan Ngo Festival is duck noodle. After making offerings to their ancestors, a big lunch party is held in every family home. Children who live and work far away all gather in their parent's homes for a party. According to custom, the son-in-law will bring two geese, some sticky rice, some green beans and fruits to offer his parents-in-law, showing his respect and gratitude to them. This act is called a “Sêu” offering.

In some regions, people also give “sêu” offerings to their teachers, doctors, or someone they respect. This custom is encouraged to promote good behaviour and to help bring the community together.

After lunch, guests wait for the clock to strike twelve. On the stroke of midday, they head to the garden to pick 100 different kinds of leaves. The leaves picked at this time are thought to have medicinal qualities. They will be dried and used for drinks.

Of all the festivals held throughout the year, Doan Ngo Festival is one of the most awaited for home-owners. Today, there are also many out-door activities held on this occasion, including:

- Fruit Festival celebrated from June 12-17 in Lach Market, in the southern province of Ben Tre, featuring such activities as fruit competition, fruit arrangement competition and fruit crop competition.

- Fruit Floating Market being held from June 1 till June 16 at Suoi Tien Amusement Park, HCM City.

- Tour to fruit gardens in Tan Phu Commune, Chau Thanh District, Ben Tre Province

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