Today is the 23rd day of the last lunar month, which is the day that Vietnamese people celebrate the farewell of the Kitchen Gods to Heaven in preparation for the celebration of Tet, the Lunar New Year.
“Vietnamese Tet “
Tet or The Lunar New Year is the most important event in Vietnam. During the Tet holidays, people have four day off from works, from the thirtieth day of the twelfth lunar month through the third day of the new year. Although these four days constitute the official holiday, everybody begins to prepare for Tet a full month beforehand and continue to celebrate the new year for half a month after Tet. To that event , Tet has deep cultural and spiritual significance in the life of the people of Vietnam.
According to tradition, Tet starts on the twenty third day of the twelfth month, traditionally called 23 Tet or Tet “Ong Cong Ong Tao”. This is the day when people worship the Kitchen Gods , the three Ong Tao who inhabit every home. A gala farewell party for the three Kitchen Gods who will ascend to heaven to report on the family’s actions in the past year and ask for the Jade Emperor’s blessing and support for it in the coming year, before returning on Lunar New Year’s Eve.
The Kitchen Gods comprise of two male and one female deity. According to legend, a man left his wife because he was too poor. She then married another man while her old husband became a beggar. One day her old husband came and begged for food without realizing it was her house.
- They recognized each other, and the man felt so ashamed that he jumped into the stove and died. The wife felt so sorry for him that she did the same, and her new husband followed suit too. Hearing about their faithful love, the Jade Emperor permitted the three of them to live together in the kitchen as Kitchen Gods.
There are many legends about the Kitchen Gods, but this one is the most popular.
Many people think the custom of worshiping these deities came from China. However, Nguyen Vu Tuan Anh, director of the Center for Research in Principles of Ancient Oriental Astrology, believes it is an old Vietnamese custom.
“The farewell ceremony for the Kitchen Gods has always been closely linked with Tet,” he wrote in a recent article for VietNamNet.
“And the story about Tet was first told during the reign of the sixth Hung King in the 15th century BCE. Therefore, it can be established that our ancestors were the first to worship the Kitchen Gods.”
Vietnamese believe that the Kitchen Gods are the guardian spirits of the kitchen who will bless the family members and bring them health, happiness, and prosperity.
The offerings include : three pairs of paper shoes, three paper hats , three paper robes for the three gods to wear on this most important journeys of the year. Also offered are a bowl with three small carp to be ridden by the gods on their journey to see the Heavenly King, votive paper money,and the meal for the gods consisting of sticky rice, chicken ,wine and fruits. People communicate with these and other spirits by burning incense.After the ritual , all of paper are burned, and the carp are set free in the nearest lake.The belief in the journey of the Kitchen God has been passed on through generations of Vietnamese families.
On this day , there are many TV programs called the ONG CONG, ONG TAO show in which like the gods making their report, people praise, criticize, and make fun of the good points and shortcomings of their families and the society at large during the preceding year.
About ten to fifteen days before Tet, many shop begin to feature Tet products .Vendors set their wares on the pavement under red banners declaring: “Tet shop” or “Selling Tet products” or “happy new year.” In some commercial districts, the entire surface of the street is covered with displays of Tet goods and decorated with red banners. The flowering peach and mandarin orange trees are the traditional tree in Tet.
Before Tet , people are interested in visiting the flowers market where to buy a mandarin orange trees or flowering peach or just to see all kind of flowers in the market
Tet is the occasion for family members and relatives to gather. The most important of all new year rituals is the act of requesting the ancestors’ protection at the family home altar. To welcome the new year, the family cleans and tidies the altar. Offerings on the ancestral altar usually include : a plate of five kinds of fruits (yellow pomelo, green banana,water melon,mandarin oranges, papaw) ,wine ,tea, MUT -candied fruits , Square Cakes.
At midnight, people burn incense on the altars to invite the ancestors to join in the new year ceremony and ask the ancestor to bestow happiness on the family. To worship Heaven and Earth and to welcome the Ong Cong of the new year.
Once the incense has been burned and the ancestors, Heaven and Earth have been invoked, it is time for the first guest to enter the house. This custom has ancient roots. People believe that the family’s luck for the coming year will be determined by the horoscope of the first person who enters the house in the new year.
The first person should be someone whose year horoscope is an auspicious match with the properties of the year. In practice, many families follow their own customs, usually having fathers or eldest sons enter first, since they are the pillar that support to the family.
In the first day of the new year, whenever people meet they say: ”happy new year” and wish others happiness, prosperty and success. Some standard traditional greeting are other sincere and literary such as : “May you be as happy as the Eastern Sea and have the longevity of the South Mountain”
“ On the first day ,stay in the father’s house
The second day is going to the mother’s family
The third day is at the teacher’s house ”
This traditional verse sumarizes the philosophy of new year journeys.
On the first morning, the master of the house whether father ,mother or oldest family member, burns incense to honor the ancestors, wish them a happy new year, and thank them for helping bring the family peace, success and happiness in the past year.
Members of the family wish happiness and success to each other and give small gifts of money to children.