Religious festivals of Vietnamese

Vietnam's calendar is full of festivals, all of which ca ll for elaborate feasting and celebration .The nationa l celebrations inc lude Li beration Day, wh ich marks the date that Saigon surrendered; National Day on 2 September, to mark the Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam by Ho Chi Minh in 1945; and Ho Chi Minh 's Birthday.The religious fe stivals ta ke place according to the lunar ca lendar, so the dates change from yea r to year.Important re ligious festi va ls include Buddha's Birthday, Phat Dan; Christmas;the Holiday of the Dead, Thanh Minh,when people visit th e graves of dead re latives to light incense and make offe rings of food and flowers ; Wandering Sou ls Day, when offe rings of food and gifts are made for the forgotten dead;and the mid -Autumn Festival, which lands on the fifteenth day of the eighth moon. To celebrate the harvest, children take part in an evening procession,holding colourful lanterns in the form of dragons, fish, boats and unicorns, while the drums and cymba ls play and festive snacks and sweets, such as sticky rice cakes fill ed with lotus seeds, pea nuts,and candied watermelon seeds, are sold in th e streets.

Above: Hue Festival 2010

Tet - Vietnamese New Year

Banh chung - A cake can not be missing in Tet Nguyen Dan (new year)

Tet Nguyen Dan, meaning "New Dawn ",is the most important fe stival of the Vietnamese lunar year.It falls some time between mid-January and mid Februaryand lasts for three days. It is a time of renewing and reaffirming beliefsin life, love, family and community.Families reunite in the hope of success and prospe rity in the co ming year.Cemeteries are vis ited and the spirits of dead re latives are invited home for the Tet celebrations. Homes and graves are clea ned and decorations are put up.The rites for Tet begin a week in advance.The first rite is the ascension of the Spirits of the Hearth to the heavens.These kitchen gods dwell in every kitchen and must ride on the backs of fish to report on the year's eve nts to the Jade Emperor in the hope of bringing back good luck for the family. To aid them on their jou rn ey, fam ilies allover Vietnam put live ca rp into the rivers and lakes and leave offerings of food and fresh water at the altars. At the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, the noise of drums and cymbals mark the beginning of the celebrations as the gods are welcomed back.The first meal of Tet is one for the ancestors as they are believed to have re turned to the world of the living. The head of the fami ly wi ll offer a grace,light three incense st icks, then invite five generations of the deceased ,whispering their names, to join in the family feast. This ceremony of "a ncestor calling" takes place at the morning and evening mea ls for the three days of Tet.The second day of Tet involves visiting the wife 's family and close friends and the third day is for embracing the community. Fami lies visit the school teac hers, patients visit the ir doctors,and many people visit astrologers to hear the yea r's fortunes. On the evening of the th ird day, the ancestors depart.The pri ncipa l Tet speciality is banh chung, sticky rice cakes filled with bean paste and, traditiona lly, wrapped in a green dong (s imilar to a banana leaf) parcel and tied with bamboo twine.Throughout the fest iviti es, stacks of banh chung are pi led high in the stalls next to waterm elons and dragon fruit,sweets, lotus seeds dyed a festive red to represent joy, truth and sincerity, and the popu lar mut, a candied concoction of vegetables and dried fruits, which are on display among the woven, painted masks. Lucky money is placed on trees as offerings to the ancestors and homes are decorated with trees, such as pretty,fruit-laden kumquats, or peach and apricot trees , resplendent in perfumed blossom , to ward off evil spirits.

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