Every year, on the fifth day of the fifth Lunar month, a special festival named “Tết Đoan Ngọ” is held throughout Vietnam. From the dawn to the afternoon, many girls and housewives hastily go to markets and prepare for this festival. So, why does Vietnam have Doan Ngo festival? And what does it mean in Vietnamese people’s lives?
What does the name “Tet Doan Ngo” mean?
Literally, “Tết” means festival, “Đoan” – the beginning and “Ngọ” – horse, the seventh animal (the middle ranking animals) of the Chinese zodiac. The festival has such a name probably as it is held in the middle of the lunar year when people start to grow crops for a new season. Interestingly, it is also called “The Festival of Killing Inner Insects” or “Tết giết sâu bọ” due to the fact that all farmers wish to chase away bugs and insects in order to have a good harvest.
Is there a myth behind “Tết Đoan Ngọ” and “Cơm Rượu” (alcoholic sweet rice)?
The answer is yes. Both of them are related to a short tale named “Thanh Xà- Bạch Xà” (meaning Green Snake – White Snake. However, the tale is quite different from that of China.)
*The origin of Cơm Rượu through the tale
Once upon a time, there were two intelligent and diligent brothers living together in a small village. In their village, there were two snakes: the younger – Thanh Xa (Blue Snake) and the elder – Bach Xa (White Snake). After years, they turned into spirits. The two snakes fell in love with two brothers whom they met several times. Thus, they transformed themselves into two beautiful girls and got married to the brothers and lived happily together. However, the brothers’ health was worse and worse.
At that time, a Taoist hermit came across the village and detected the presence of bad spirit in the men’s house. The hermit brewed a special wine potion and asked the brothers to drink it in the early morning of the fifth day of the fifth lunar year. As soon as they drank the wine, their wives turned into snakes and disappeared. Since then, people usually drunk wine and ate a dish named “cơm rượu” (alcoholic sweet rice) with a hope that they could chase away the bad spirit.
What are features of “Tet Doan Ngo”?
On this occasion, the whole family has to get up early, eat fruits and “com rượu”. After that, some families will have worship at noon, on “Ngọ” (horse) hour (12 p.m.) The houses will be brimful of solemn ambiance of incense and wishes. The householders often wish for their families’ health and a new fruitful harvest. In the afternoon, all members in the family will eat “bánh trôi nước” or “chè trôi nước” (Vietnamese mochi balls soaked in rock sugar syrup) with the belief that “chè trôi nước” can cleanse their body of any unwanted insects or parasites.
After worshipping, children will seek some fruits and play a special game. Some of them will climb trees and sit on a big branch while others will use a wooden stick to knock on the trunk and ask: “How many fruits do you have this year?” and the child on the tree will answer the number of fruits that he wants. The more fruits they say, the better it is.
What are popular dishes in “Tet Doan Ngo”?
Some traditional food Vietnamese usually enjoy on Tet Doan Ngo are fresh fruits (especially sour fruit such as mangoes and guavas), cơm rượu, bánh ú (Sticky Rice Dumplings), and chè trôi nước. Different from Tangyuan in China, Vietnamese mochi balls are made of green bean paste wrapped in a shell made of glutinous rice flour garnished with sesame seeds.
Cơm rượu (pronouce: kom-ryu) is also called fermented/alcoholic glutinous rice in English, which is made from rice and yeast and usually rolled into small balls. It has the sweet taste of cooked glutinous rice and bitter taste of alcohol. Eating too much of it will get you drunk.
Another traditional dish is bánh ú (pronounce: ban-u), which has many other different names such as banh gio, banh tro and banh am. Banh u is usually made of rice that has been soaked in potassium carbonate and wrapped in banana leaves. You can enjoy it with sugar or honey.
Actually, the traditions and customs of Tet Doan Ngo vary in different places in Vietnam, from the North to the South and from the central to the delta. However, it cannot be denied that “Tet Doan Ngo” is one of the most significant festivals in Vietnam, which shows the unique culture of agricultural Vietnam. Enjoy the atmosphere of this special Tet and you will know more about its practical and holy meanings.