Tet Festival Vietnam
Tet has become so familiar, so sacred to the Vietnamese that when Spring arrives, the Vietnamese, wherever they may be, are all thrilled and excited with the advent of Tet, and they feel an immense nostalgia, wishing to come back to their homeland for a family reunion and a taste of the particular flavours of the Vietnamese festivities.
Tet starts on the first day of the first lunar month and is the first season of the new year (according to the lunar calendar), and therefore it is also known as the Tet Nguyen Dan, literally meaning Fete of the First Day, or the Tet Tam Nguyen, literally meaning Fete of the Three Firsts.
Those who have settled down abroad all turn their thoughts to their home country and try to celebrate the festivities in the same traditional way as their family members and relatives to relieve their nostalgia, never forgetting the fine customs handed down from generation to generation.
The Tet of the New Year is, above all, a fete of the family. This is an opportunity for the household genies to meet, those who have helped during the year, namely the Craft Creator, the Land Genie and the Kitchen God. As the legend goes, each year on December 23 of the lunar calendar, the Kitchen God takes a ride on a carp to the Heavenly Palace to make a report on the affairs of the household on earth and then returns on December 30 to welcome the New Spring.
Tet is also an opportunity to welcome deceased ancestors back for a family reunion with their descendants. Finally, Tet is a good opportunity for family members to meet. This custom has become sacred and secular and, therefore, no matter where they are or whatever the circumstances, family members find ways to come back to meet their loved ones. This event is really important to Vietnamese people and it is also one of the best Vietnam holidays!
TET TAO QUAN
The Vietnamese have a custom of seeing off Ong Conga (the Land Genie) and Ong Tao (the Kitchen God) on the 23rd day of lunar December. Both go to Heaven to brief Ngoc Hoang (the Jade Emperor) on the life of the owner of the house where they stay, and pray for luck, prosperity and happiness. On New Year's Eve, both Gods will come back to earth and continue their routine duty of looking after the kitchen of the house.
The custom of worshiping Ong Conga and Ong Tao originated from a myth that dates from ancient time. There was a couple, so poor that they had to go far away to earn their living. They lost each other. After a long time of unsuccessfully looking for her husband, the wife married another man. One day, her old husband unintentionally called at her house to beg for food. The old couple recognized each other. Feeling sad and embarrassed at the situation and unfaithful to the old husband, the wife jumped into the fire and burned to death. The old husband, sorry for the wife, also jumped into the fire, as did the new husband. Hearing about their faithful love, the jade Emperor permitted the three of them to live together as the Kitchen God to enjoy the blessings.
On the Ong Cong and Ong Tao festival day, people usually prepare steamed sticky rice with sugar porridge, truncated cone-shaped cookies made of sticky rice, incense joss sticks and flowers for a worshiping ceremony. They also prepare a basin of water in which they put one big live carp or three small ones. After the ceremony, the carp are released into the pond or the river. This custom has two meanings. First, as popular thinking goes, the carp can swim well and it will pass Vu Moon (Heaven's gate) to become a dragon. Thus, Ong Cong and Ong Tao ride a carp, i.e. a dragon, to heaven. Second, the custom of releasing the carps refers to a custom of releasing animals, such as birds into the air and the beasts into the forest , which is considered a kindhearted deed to pray for good luck.
The custom of worshiping Ong Cong and Ong Tao as the Land Genie and Kitchen God has a humanist value, reflecting the family happiness. The fire in the kitchen manifests not only the cozy family union, but also the bumper harvest and agricultural development.
Banh Chung - Square Rice Cake
If there is one dish that sums up the spirit of Tet it is Banh Chung. The connection between Tet and the cake is said to have begun with one of the Hung Kings, who needed to select a prince worthy of his throne.
To put his princes to the test he asked each to select a special delicacy to bring as an offering to the ancestral altar for the upcoming Tet (lunar new year).
While the other princes searched high and low for the tastiest, most expensive morsels, the 18th prince, Lang Lieu, followed the advice of a genie who told him that the dish should represent the essence of Heaven and Earth, the most precious thing he could offer.
Lang Lieu boiled a combination of sticky rice, green beans, pork and dong leaves, eventually creating Banh Chung, simply translated as square cake.
Moved by the basic virtue of the cake, which was simple enough for any peasant to create, the King handed his throne to this virtuous prince.
Preparing Banh Chung is labour intensive. Sticky rice, which is made from glutinous rice and also known in Viet Nam as pearl rice, is first soaked in water for eight hours, washed and dried.
The green beans are hulled, then cooked and pressed into small balls. The fresh dong leaves, which come from forested areas, also have to be wiped and dried.
As usual the work is performed by the women of the household. Five or six dong leaves are used to line a square wooden box. Rice is then spread out over the leaves before a layer of green beans. Next comes a strip of pork then a layer of green beans and finally sticky rice.
The whole thing is bundled up and boiled for 10 hours. When the cakes are removed from the water they are pressed closely together with a heavy weight and left to settle.
Everyone has their own secret ingredient but the most important part of the process is to show care and respect for the ingredients used.
Bamboo string is used to separate the cake into eight pieces and Banh Chung is usually served with salted onion to increase the appetite.
Although the onrush of modern society means less people are preparing their own Banh Chung, those that still do the work can rest assured they are bringing together the essence of Heaven and Earth.