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Vietnam Holidays and Festivals

Vietnam Holidays and Festivals

Vietnam has a huge number of festivals. Listing all of them under one group is not possible. Many festivals (in different areas) are the same as other festivals in other areas, but are known by different names and/or are celebrated at different times. Below you will find some of the more important ones.
Festivals are good places to learn about various crafts and customs of the area in which they are held.
For example, the Master Pagoda Festival (HaTay) has puppet shows, the Hung Temple Festival (Vinh Phu) features Xoan folk songs, the Phu Giay Festival has Chau Van folk songs and the Lim Festival has Quan Ho folk songs.
Other festivals feature games and contests, such as rowing, rope pulling or climbing, wrestling, rice cooking or chess. There are also competitions between animals such as buffalo and cockfights or pigeon races.
Main Holidays & Festivals (Official Public Holidays)
1 January: New Year.
1 January L.M: Lunar New Year.
3 February: The Foundation of the Communist Party of Vietnam.
30 April: The Liberation of South Vietnam.
1 May: International Labor.
14 May: Buddha’s Birthday
19 May: Ho Chi Minh’s Birthday
2 September: National Day of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
25 December: Christmas Day.

Popular Culture Festivals
2 January L.M: Lieu Doi Festival (Ha Nam Ninh).
5 January L.M: Dong Da Festival (Hanoi).
10 January L.M: Elephant Race Day, M’nong Ethnic Minority’s help in central highland.
13 January L.M: Lim Festival (Ha Bac) “Quan Ho” Folk song contest.
15 January L.M: Spring Festival on Ba Den Mountain (Tay Ninh).
10 March L.M: “Hung” Temple Festival (Vinh Phu).
9 April L.M: “Giong” Festival Performing Day (Hanoi).
26 April L.M: “Chua Xu” Festival “Chau Doc”.
16 June L.M: Greeting “Mr. Whale” Festival (Tien Giang & Ben Tre).
26 August L.M: Greeting “Mr. Whale” Festival (Can Gio & Duyen Hai).
30 July L.M: “Lang Ong” Festival (HCMC), Le Van Duyet’s Anniversary old-age Worshipping.
9 August L.M: Buffalo fighting festival (Do Son & Hai Phong) and “Tran Hung Dao” Festival at Tran Hung Dao Temple.

Boat racing

From time immemorial, boat racing has appeared in Vietnam. It is not only a competition but also a ritual in honour of the Water God, stemming from the act of praying for water among agricluture-based people.In some places there are only two boats in competition (in Ðào Xá, Phú Tho), a male boat with the figure of a bird at its head and a female one decorating with a figure of a fish. These two figures symbolize the yin-yang harmony (bird: in the sky – yang, fish: in the water – yin). The movements of the ores waken up the Water God. This kind of boat racing only takes place at night and ends at the crack of dawn. For fishermen boat racing conveys their wishes for bumper fish catches. In other places, boat racing is held to honour general who were good at navy operation.At present boat racing constitutes an important part in the program of many festivals from the North to the South, especially the localities with rivers and lakes or near the sea. It has gone beyond a belief activity to become a fascinating sport event, which attracts a large number of participants. As such, boat racing has become an event to compete and display collective strength.
Battle of the chickens - Choi ga
Cock fighting, a long-standing form of popular entertainment, is organised during traditional festivals throughout Vietnam. Raising roosters for cockfighting requires heavy investments in time and labour. Professional trainers choose young chickens carefully, individually preparing their food and drink, bathing them, separating them from hens, and training them in fighting positions. A fighting cock must be so acquainted with its owner that it will allow only the owner to hold him. Fighting cocks, which come from three main species, are colloquially called "sacred chickens" or "combat roosters". Black roosters with a red comb and a long neck are full of stamina and will fight to the bitter end. White roosters with ivory-coloured feet and round yellow eyes are hot-tempered and perform "lightning battles". Also popular are "five-coloured cocks" coated with black, yellow, brown, red and blackish blue feathers. They fight with flexibility and often run away if they lose.

The owners prepare a 1.5m-wide ring walled by a 20cm-high bamboo screen. Spectators stand outside the screen. Only the owners of the fighting cocks are allowed to enter the area to care for their animals. A rooster loses if it leaves the ring twice and does not return.

Before a cockfight begins, owners agree on the terms among themselves. They compare the size, weight and combat achievements of their roosters. If one rooster has longer spurs, its rival is allowed to wear artificial spurs. After the discussion and agreement, the owners bring their birds into the ring. The cocks are kept in two separate halves of the ring until a signal is given to start the fight. Cocks usually attempt some trial feints to gauge their competitors reactions before giving mortal thrashings: a double kick against the rivals body, a cut to the neck using spurs, or pecking out the rivals eyes.

The fight continues until one bird is defeated. Contestants time the rounds by burning an incense slick or draining water can with a hole in it.

Vietnamese cockfights have two forms of compensation. In one version, the loser pays an agreed-upon sum lo the winner; in the other, the loser forfeits both money and the defeated bird.

Releasing pigeons - Tha chim
A long with other traditional festival games, releasing pigeons has attracted numerous participants since the distant past. Some villages including Tam Giang and Hoan Son villages in Bac Ninh Province still maintain the tradition. Every year, Hoan Son and Tam Giang villagers organise bird-releasing festivals in the early summer and mid autumn during the third and the eighth lunar months. Each family raises two or three flocks of pigeons. Judges stipulate that each flock in the spring contest may have ten pigeons but only eight in the autumn. The contests are open to anyone-not just Bac Ninh residents. Bird lovers use these occasions to exchange experiences and learn from each other.
The Judges consist of the trich ha, who distributes numbers to participants and then call the numbers for the birds release, and the trich thuong, who observes the arrangement of birds in the sky to determine the winner, a flock of birds flies beautifully when all their heads huddle together. Seen from the ground, they look like an arrow disappearing on the horizon.
"Before the contest every trainer practises releasing his birds so that the pigeons are familiar with the flight direction. All the birds return unless they lose their way in a heavy storm. Intelligent pigeons can return to their owner seven days or even two years later".
The bird owner should pay attention to the pigeons eyes, nostrils and wings to have birds that fly both high and well. Good birds usually have eyes with small, round pupils. Birds with translucent, dry eyes do best at the hot summer festival, and those with wet eyes are best for the dry autumn contest. Birds with small nostrils are better than those with big ones because they can withstand windy conditions and fly higher. Large wings, short tails and narrow shoulders also enable birds to be strong, skilful fliers.
Releasing pigeons is considered a refined form of entertainment. As a traditional saying goes, "Men enjoy many kinds of games, but nothing is as pleasurable as releasing birds".

Throwing a sacre ball through the ring - Ném còn
Each ethnic group in Vietnam has unique ways of celebrating Tet. The Tay people of Cao Bang and Lang Son Provinces have a special Tet game that not only ushers in the spring but also serves as a matchmaker. According to Tay legend, Pia, an orphan, war poor and lonely. Discouraged with life, he went to the forest and gathered pieces of fruit to throw around. One time, he threw a fruit so hard it flew straight to heaven, where a fairy caught it. The fairy flew down to the earth to play ith Pia. Before long, they fell in love and became husband and wife. The people of the mountain village believed that the fruit had brought Pia happiness. To celebrate this story, young men and women toss balls (nem con) each year from the third day of Tet until the end of the first lunar month. Players gather on a level field where villagers have planted a tall bamboo tree. A bamboo ring about 30-40 cm in diameter hangs from the tree. Gaudy fabric covers the balls, which the makers have stuffed with rice grains (representing food) and cotton seeds (clothing) along with their hidden desires. A multicoloured tassel decorates the balls. According to tradition, before playing, the Tay people first prepare a tray of food, which they take to the field and offer to the Sky and Earth. Two balls and a bamboo ring on the tray represent vitality and virtue. The festival leader, who must have high status, prays to the Sky and Earth lo brings rain so that the community will have a good harvest. After this ceremony, the leader tosses the two balls high into the air. Everyone competes to catch them, signaling the beginning of festivities. At that point, each family may throw its own household ball through the bamboo ring for good luck. Naturally, some balls do not make it through on the first try. The owners may try over and over until they are successful.The festival leader closes with a prayer for a good planting season, then slashes the ball open and distributes seeds to everyone. These seeds bring good luck and will sprout quickly because they unite the forces of am and duong (yin and yang) in the warmth of womens and mens hands. Everyone receives the holy seeds of the Sky, the Earth and Humanity with the belief and hope that their crops will increase, people will prosper and the entire village will have sufficient food, clothing and happiness. For this reason, the ball game is a major feature of Tay tradition.

Bamboo swing - Danh du

The game is most popular in the northern delta, especially along the banks of the Duong River in Bac Ninh Province. Residents in many villages around Hanoi, including the ancient capital of Co Loa, also set up swings during spring festivals. Swings have been traditional game at village festivals for centuries. A Complete History of Dai Viet (Dai Viet su ky toan thu) states: "In the Ly Dynasty, in spring or the first lunar month, boys and girls get together and play this game". Villagers usually build their swings on a dry, harvested rice paddy near a communal house. The area should be large enough for spectators to stand around all four sides.Swings and the associated games come in many kinds and variations. However, the most common Vietnamese swings involve a wooden platform, not a seat. One or two people stand on the platform and swing themselves high in the air, even tens of meters, until their bodies are almost parallel to the ground. Their goal is a prize hanging from the top of the swings frame.
The frame of the swing is constructed of solid bamboo. The handles are also made of bamboo that is straight, without knots and wide enough for a persons palm. The swings platform must be close enough to the ground that players can jump on easily.
To ensure safety, builders must choose the right bamboo, for young bamboo is weak, while old bamboo is less elastic and tends to break. They seal their completed frame with paper and invite an elderly villager to check its quality. If the frame meets his standards, he will remove the seal. With that, someone beats a drum. He clasps both hands in front of his chest and bows to his fellow villagers. Then, on behalf of the community, he opens the game.
Players should dress smartly and neatly. Boys wear red purse-belts and girls greenish pulse-belts over traditional four-panel dresses (tu than) and then headscarves so their hair won come loose. Often a boy and girl will swing together.
First, the couple steps onto the swing platform and stands face to face. Then they press their feet against platform floor and bend their knees. Gradually, the swing begins to move like a pendulum. The harder they press, the higher the swing flies, as described in a poem by the 19th-century woman poet Ho Xuan Huong:
The boy bends his knees
The girl bends her back
The four red panels of her skirt fly in the air
Two parallel lines of stretched legs.
At the height or their swinging, the two almost lie on top of one another. The crowd cheers. As soon as the couple reaches the highest point, one of the two will stretch out a hand and try to snatch the prize. This is the most difficult part of the game, for it requires that both players be calm, clever and acts as a team. They lose if they drop the prize. The crowd is just as anxious, hoping the couple manages to secure the prize as a reward for their long days of practice.
This type of swinging is not for those who get dizzy!

Rice cooking compatitions - Nau Com
During Tet, a number of villages in northern and central Vietnam hold cooking contests that may sound simple, but follow strict and complex rules: Cooking in the wind and rain. Tu Trong Village, Thanh Hoa Province has a temple dedicated to the 11th century warrior Le Phung Hieu.
During the temples weeklong festival the first week of Tet, villagers hold culinary competitions: cooking ordinary rice in water, steaming sticky rice and making rice cakes.
Contestants cook in the open air while in a bamboo boat floating on the village pond. Charcoal, the usual fuel, is prohibited. Instead, each competitor receives some dried sugar cane, which burns only with difficulty. The challenge increases if it is windy and raining. Each contestant must set her rice pot in exactly the right place to take advantage of the wind and avoid extinguishing the fire.
The competition begins precisely at dawn. Hundreds of boats are tied up along the pond bank since as many as 200 young women may participate.
After a salvo of drumbeats, competitors step into their boats, bringing along cooking tripods, rice pots, some damp straw and fuel. They row to the centre of the pond, make a fire and wash the rice.
A second salvo of drumbeats sounds, punctuated by three final beats, the competition starts. The cooking may be done in one pot after another or by using all pots al the same time. The tiny, light boat sways with the competitors every movement, keeping the craft stable while cooking is like performing a circus act. The competitor who finishes first wins, but quality also counts. People from many villages watch from the pond bank, mothers who have trained their girls for months impatiently wait for the results of their efforts. Other women take advantage of the occasion to look for prospective daughters-in-law who are both good cooks and can also face difficulties with calmness.
Contests for boys and girls villagers in Chuong Village of Ha Tay Province organise similar competitions separately for boys and girls. Female participants must cook rice on the ground while simultaneously carrying a six-to seven-month-old baby from another family on her hip. She must console the infant when he or she cries. At the same time, she must prevent a toad from jumping out of a chalk circle drawn around her. The competition is all the more difficult because the spectators, especially children, take every opportunity to tease the baby.
The contest for boys is no less rigorous. Each boy must stand ready with all the necessary items (rice, water, matches and firewood) on a light boat moored the pond bank. At a given signal he paddles with his hands to the opposite bank, where a row of pots is placed on tripods. He must stay in his unmoored boat while cooking the rice on the bank. The least loss of balance tosses him over into the water.
In Tich Son Village of Vinh Phuc Province, a cooking competition takes place on the morning of the fourth day after Tet. The finished rice must meet particular criteria of taste and consistency. Contestants use two pots. First they boil the rice in a copper pot over the fire. Once the water boils, they pour both the rice and water into an earthen pot and cook the rice over charcoal until done.

Human chess - Co nguoi

“Human chess” (co nguoi) is a popular game at village and temple festival. The game follows the general rules of Chinese chess. The concept is recognizably similar to Western chess, but with a different-sized board and different pieces, including cannons and guards, each of them marked with a distinct Chinese character.
In human chess, however, the pieces are all people: 32 people in all. One side consists of 16 boys and the other of 16 girls. Each team wears a different colour.
The chessboard is marked by paint on flat ground. Village festivals usually use the yard in front of a communal house or pagoda or a nearby field. Organisers select players plus a referee well in advance. All should be children of families with a good reputation. The referee and the two generals should come from wealthier families so they can treat their players to food. As the selection finishes, the referee convenes the 32 people, describes the costumes, and tells each person how to move as a chess piece. Players may sit on chairs and wear hats if it is sunny. They either wear boards with the Chinese names of their pieces or carry sign poles with the characters. The generals wear traditional costumes. The two contestants who direct the pieces have their own seats outside the board.
In contrast to some other games practiced at festivals, human chess is known for its quietude and delicacy.
Tò He
The village of Xuan La in Phu Xuyen District. Ha Tay Province is well known for its skill in making delicate tohe toys, which are figurines fashioned from coloured rice dough. These simple toys still give children immense joy during the Mid-Autumn season. Tò he makers do not teach the craft to women because the fathers fear their daughters will reveal precious trade secrets to their husbands" families.
According to an old man in Xuan La Village, the recipe for success in making tò he lies in the preparation  of the  dough.  The  craftsman   first grinds rice into fine powder, then pours water into the powder and mixes it until he achieves a sticky lump. He places the lump in a pot of water, brings the water to a boil, and cooks the paste for an hour. When the lump rises to the waters surface, dips, and rises again, the craftsman removes it from the pot. Then he applies seven colours: white. black, green, yellow, violet, pink, and red. Miraculously. the different colours never stain one another when he assembles the parts of a to lie figurine.
Many generations of Vietnamese children have been overjoyed when their mothers return from market with a tò he. Children can even eat to he after playing with them. Each Xuan La craftsman embarking on the to he trade learns to humour customers, especially children. The lesson of humanity is the first one every Xuan La villager bears in mind. "If we love people, they will surely come to us," to he makers say.
Making Tò he doesn bring much profit. The materials rice paste, bamboo-stick holders, colourings - are inexpensive and locally available. A craftsman only charges customers for his patience and care. A Tò he in a rural market costs between VND 500 and VND 1.000 (US$.03 -$.07). Makers who travel farther afield to the larger cities can sell a tò he for between VND 2.000 to VND 3.000 (US$.13 - $.20).
Customers can place their orders, watch the craftsman mould the toy. and be pleased with the results in minutes. A tò he can depict a person, a famous general, a folk-tale character, an animal, or a flower. The makers remember the characteristics of every subject. They are experts in using exactly the right amount of paste to form each separate part of each kind of toy. as if these skills were an inborn talent.
Mr. Dang Van To. who is eighty-two, is the oldest tò he maker in Xuan La. He talks proudly about his life and career. Mr. Tos family has been making tò he for ten generations. He learned the trade when he was six and is nationally known. The Ministry of Culture and Information often asks him to demonstrate to he making at festivals. Mr. Tos passion and skill have not lessened despite his age. He can make every kind of tò he. from kings and mandarins with elaborate imperial costumes to complicated dragons. He can finish an image of King Quang Trung. a national hero, in less than ten minutes.
Mr. To also likes to teach children about the underlying meaning of Id he. He explains that the lifeline of the tò he trade is peoples joy. not money. For example, as Mr. To creates a tò he rat. he explains that rats have pointed noses and long tails, that they destroy farmers crops, and that the children should help get rid of rats. The children are fascinated to listen to Mr. To as they watch the tò he emerge in his hands.
Today, plastic and electronic toys flood city and countryside markets. Although tò he cannot compete. Xuan La villagers still struggle to maintain their traditional trade. At present, about 300 villagers make tò he. Chu Van Nghe. a war veteran who is sixty-seven, still pursues the craft. His four-year-old granddaughter has asked him to teach her to make tò he. Nowadays, many women assist their husbands and families in preserving the village trade. Everyday. Xuan La villagers travel to different corners of the countryside - from hamlets to markets to parks - selling tòhe to children and to he lovers.
Xuan La villagers take pride that, nowadays, id he makers can be found nationwide and even abroad in China. Laos. Cambodia, and Thailand. This proves that the craft has not entirely disappeared. Although a tò he is small, it embodies a lot of the sentiment, honour, and industry that began with Xuan La villagers long, long ago.

The games of squares - O an quan
As society becomes more developed, children become more intelligent. They have more opportunities to watch television shows and play new video games, which are often filled with sex and violence. Consequently, folk games, like o an quan (game of squares), and danh dao (coin toss), seem out-dated and now only adults remember them.
O an quan remains deservedly popular among older children since it requires good counting skills and forethought in order to win.
Either boys or girls, usually age’s seven to ten, play the two-person game of O an quan (literally "Mandarins Box"). They draw a rectangle on the ground and divide it into ten small squares called "rice fields" or "fish ponds.
"They also draw two additional semi-circular boxes at the two ends of the rectangle, which are called"mandarins boxes," hence the games name. Each person has 25 small pebbles and a bigger stone.
Each player places the stone in one of the mandarins boxes and five small pebbles in each of the other squares (see diagram above). Then the game begins. The first player takes up the contents of one square on his or her side of the board (but not a mandarins box) and distributes the pebbles one by one, starting with the next square in either direction. (Since each square contains five pebbles at the beginning, the first move will distribute five pebbles to the left or right).
After the last pebble is distributed, the player takes the contents of the following square and repeats the distribution process. But if the following square is one of the mandarins boxes, the turn ends and passes to the other player.
If the last pebble falls into a square that precedes one empty square, the player wins all the contents of the square following the empty square and removes these pebbles from the board. If this square is followed by another empty square, the player wins the contents of the square after that, and so on. However, if there are two or more empty squares in a row, the player loses his or her turn.
Once a player has taken pebbles from the board, the turn is handed to the other player. If all five squares on one players side of the board are emptied at any time, that player must place one pebble he or she has aside back in each of the five squares so that the game can resume.
The game continues until the two mandarins boxes have both been taken. At the end of the game, the player with more pebbles wins, with each of the large stones counting as ten points. If each player retrieves an equal number of points, then the game is a tie.

Kites that make music - Sáo Diều
The kites are built in a traditional Vietnamese style, known as dieu sao, with eight ovoid wings attached, plus five bamboo flutes in graduated sizes, which are mounted on top and make a pleasing drone when the kite is flying. The faster the kite swoops, the more magical the sound of the flutes is.
Kits are estimated to be 2,000 years old, and are popular across most Asian countries, where kite flying is seen as a sport, hobby and a religious custom. In Indonesia for example, kites are used for sport and also to catch fish.
Childrens kites are often small, simple and covered with paper, while adults kites may be more complex, cloth-covered, and feature one or more wind flutes that play melodies as the kites fly.
A typical adults kite has four parts: the body, the steering string, the flying string and flutes. The frame is made of the smooth outer bamboo stalk and is well polished. Kite-makers shape bamboo straps into a crescent two to three metres long and one metre wide. After that, they cover the frame with pieces of cotton cloth or carefully glued paper. If one half of the kite is heavier than the other, the steering string will help balance it. This string also serves lo direct flight and protect the kite wings from breaking if the wind is too strong. The flying string is also made of bamboo and can be as long as 100m to 150m. Young bamboo straps the size of chopsticks are tied together, then boiled in water or even in traditional Chinese medicine and salt so that the string becomes soft and flexible.
Kites not only attract people by their shapes and colours but also by their flutes. Flutes of different sizes and materials can make the sound of birds, car horns, gongs or music. The mouth of the flute must be skillfully carved so that it can properly receive the wind and create the desired sound.
Today, villagers build more sophisticated kites in the shape of phoenixes, butterflies and dragons. They replace thick bamboo strings with thinner bamboo or plastic rope. Modern kites are very light and cost little since the materials to make them are readily available.
People often fly kites in the late afternoon as the sun begins to set. Normally, two people fly one kite. One person holds the flying string while the other takes the kite and runs into the wind until the wind lifts the kite.
The two may keep the kite high in the sky from day to day, even from summer to autumn.
Every year, kite-flying competitions take place in many northern and central provinces. The rules vary from place to place. In general, the most beautiful kite with the most interesting flute melodies wins. However, Quang Yen Townlet (Quang Ninh Province) holds a kite-fighting competition: regardless of design, kites that hit or break other kites win.
Vietnam has a huge number of festivals. Listing all of them under one group is not possible. Many festivals (in different areas) are the same as other festivals in other areas, but are known by different names and/or are celebrated at different times. Below you will find some of the more important ones.
Festivals are good places to learn about various crafts and customs of the area in which they are held. For example, the Master Pagoda Festival (HaTay) has puppet shows, the Hung Temple Festival (Vinh Phu) features Xoan folk songs, the Phu Giay Festival has Chau Van folk songs and the Lim Festival has Quan Ho folk songs.
Other festivals feature games and contests, such as rowing, rope pulling or climbing, wrestling, rice cooking or chess. There are also competitions between animals such as buffalo and cockfights or pigeon races.
Main Holidays & Festivals (Official Public Holidays)
1 January: New Year.
1 January L.M: Lunar New Year.
3 February: The Foundation of the Communist Party of Vietnam.
30 April: The Liberation of South Vietnam.
1 May: International Labor.
14 May: Buddha’s Birthday
19 May: Ho Chi Minh’s Birthday
2 September: National Day of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
25 December: Christmas Day.
Popular Culture Festivals
2 January L.M: Lieu Doi Festival (Ha Nam Ninh).
5 January L.M: Dong Da Festival (Hanoi).
10 January L.M: Elephant Race Day, M’nong Ethnic Minority’s help in central highland.
13 January L.M: Lim Festival (Ha Bac) “Quan Ho” Folk song contest.
15 January L.M: Spring Festival on Ba Den Mountain (Tay Ninh).
10 March L.M: “Hung” Temple Festival (Vinh Phu).
9 April L.M: “Giong” Festival Performing Day (Hanoi).
26 April L.M: “Chua Xu” Festival “Chau Doc”.
16 June L.M: Greeting “Mr. Whale” Festival (Tien Giang & Ben Tre).
26 August L.M: Greeting “Mr. Whale” Festival (Can Gio & Duyen Hai).
30 July L.M: “Lang Ong” Festival (HCMC), Le Van Duyet’s Anniversary old-age Worshipping.
9 August L.M: Buffalo fighting festival (Do Son & Hai Phong) and “Tran Hung Dao” Festival at Tran Hung Dao Temple.

Boat racing
From time immemorial, boat racing has appeared in Vietnam. It is not only a competition but also a ritual in honour of the Water God, stemming from the act of praying for water among agricluture-based people.In some places there are only two boats in competition (in Ðào Xá, Phú Tho), a male boat with the figure of a bird at its head and a female one decorating with a figure of a fish. These two figures symbolize the yin-yang harmony (bird: in the sky – yang, fish: in the water – yin). The movements of the ores waken up the Water God. This kind of boat racing only takes place at night and ends at the crack of dawn. For fishermen boat racing conveys their wishes for bumper fish catches. In other places, boat racing is held to honour general who were good at navy operation.At present boat racing constitutes an important part in the program of many festivals from the North to the South, especially the localities with rivers and lakes or near the sea. It has gone beyond a belief activity to become a fascinating sport event, which attracts a large number of participants. As such, boat racing has become an event to compete and display collective strength.

Battle of the chickens - Choi ga
Cock fighting, a long-standing form of popular entertainment, is organised during traditional festivals throughout Vietnam. Raising roosters for cockfighting requires heavy investments in time and labour. Professional trainers choose young chickens carefully, individually preparing their food and drink, bathing them, separating them from hens, and training them in fighting positions. A fighting cock must be so acquainted with its owner that it will allow only the owner to hold him. Fighting cocks, which come from three main species, are colloquially called "sacred chickens" or "combat roosters". Black roosters with a red comb and a long neck are full of stamina and will fight to the bitter end. White roosters with ivory-coloured feet and round yellow eyes are hot-tempered and perform "lightning battles". Also popular are "five-coloured cocks" coated with black, yellow, brown, red and blackish blue feathers. They fight with flexibility and often run away if they lose.

The owners prepare a 1.5m-wide ring walled by a 20cm-high bamboo screen. Spectators stand outside the screen. Only the owners of the fighting cocks are allowed to enter the area to care for their animals. A rooster loses if it leaves the ring twice and does not return.

Before a cockfight begins, owners agree on the terms among themselves. They compare the size, weight and combat achievements of their roosters. If one rooster has longer spurs, its rival is allowed to wear artificial spurs. After the discussion and agreement, the owners bring their birds into the ring. The cocks are kept in two separate halves of the ring until a signal is given to start the fight. Cocks usually attempt some trial feints to gauge their competitors reactions before giving mortal thrashings: a double kick against the rivals body, a cut to the neck using spurs, or pecking out the rivals eyes.

The fight continues until one bird is defeated. Contestants time the rounds by burning an incense slick or draining water can with a hole in it.

Vietnamese cockfights have two forms of compensation. In one version, the loser pays an agreed-upon sum lo the winner; in the other, the loser forfeits both money and the defeated bird.

Releasing pigeons - Tha chim
A long with other traditional festival games, releasing pigeons has attracted numerous participants since the distant past. Some villages including Tam Giang and Hoan Son villages in Bac Ninh Province still maintain the tradition. Every year, Hoan Son and Tam Giang villagers organise bird-releasing festivals in the early summer and mid autumn during the third and the eighth lunar months. Each family raises two or three flocks of pigeons. Judges stipulate that each flock in the spring contest may have ten pigeons but only eight in the autumn. The contests are open to anyone-not just Bac Ninh residents. Bird lovers use these occasions to exchange experiences and learn from each other.
The Judges consist of the trich ha, who distributes numbers to participants and then call the numbers for the birds release, and the trich thuong, who observes the arrangement of birds in the sky to determine the winner, a flock of birds flies beautifully when all their heads huddle together. Seen from the ground, they look like an arrow disappearing on the horizon.
"Before the contest every trainer practises releasing his birds so that the pigeons are familiar with the flight direction. All the birds return unless they lose their way in a heavy storm. Intelligent pigeons can return to their owner seven days or even two years later".
The bird owner should pay attention to the pigeons eyes, nostrils and wings to have birds that fly both high and well. Good birds usually have eyes with small, round pupils. Birds with translucent, dry eyes do best at the hot summer festival, and those with wet eyes are best for the dry autumn contest. Birds with small nostrils are better than those with big ones because they can withstand windy conditions and fly higher. Large wings, short tails and narrow shoulders also enable birds to be strong, skilful fliers.
Releasing pigeons is considered a refined form of entertainment. As a traditional saying goes, "Men enjoy many kinds of games, but nothing is as pleasurable as releasing birds".
Throwing a sacre ball through the ring - Ném còn
Each ethnic group in Vietnam has unique ways of celebrating Tet. The Tay people of Cao Bang and Lang Son Provinces have a special Tet game that not only ushers in the spring but also serves as a matchmaker. According to Tay legend, Pia, an orphan, war poor and lonely. Discouraged with life, he went to the forest and gathered pieces of fruit to throw around. One time, he threw a fruit so hard it flew straight to heaven, where a fairy caught it. The fairy flew down to the earth to play ith Pia. Before long, they fell in love and became husband and wife. The people of the mountain village believed that the fruit had brought Pia happiness. To celebrate this story, young men and women toss balls (nem con) each year from the third day of Tet until the end of the first lunar month. Players gather on a level field where villagers have planted a tall bamboo tree. A bamboo ring about 30-40 cm in diameter hangs from the tree. Gaudy fabric covers the balls, which the makers have stuffed with rice grains (representing food) and cotton seeds (clothing) along with their hidden desires. A multicoloured tassel decorates the balls. According to tradition, before playing, the Tay people first prepare a tray of food, which they take to the field and offer to the Sky and Earth. Two balls and a bamboo ring on the tray represent vitality and virtue. The festival leader, who must have high status, prays to the Sky and Earth lo brings rain so that the community will have a good harvest. After this ceremony, the leader tosses the two balls high into the air. Everyone competes to catch them, signaling the beginning of festivities. At that point, each family may throw its own household ball through the bamboo ring for good luck. Naturally, some balls do not make it through on the first try. The owners may try over and over until they are successful.The festival leader closes with a prayer for a good planting season, then slashes the ball open and distributes seeds to everyone. These seeds bring good luck and will sprout quickly because they unite the forces of am and duong (yin and yang) in the warmth of womens and mens hands. Everyone receives the holy seeds of the Sky, the Earth and Humanity with the belief and hope that their crops will increase, people will prosper and the entire village will have sufficient food, clothing and happiness. For this reason, the ball game is a major feature of Tay tradition.
Bamboo swing - Danh du
The game is most popular in the northern delta, especially along the banks of the Duong River in Bac Ninh Province. Residents in many villages around Hanoi, including the ancient capital of Co Loa, also set up swings during spring festivals. Swings have been traditional game at village festivals for centuries. A Complete History of Dai Viet (Dai Viet su ky toan thu) states: "In the Ly Dynasty, in spring or the first lunar month, boys and girls get together and play this game". Villagers usually build their swings on a dry, harvested rice paddy near a communal house. The area should be large enough for spectators to stand around all four sides.Swings and the associated games come in many kinds and variations. However, the most common Vietnamese swings involve a wooden platform, not a seat. One or two people stand on the platform and swing themselves high in the air, even tens of meters, until their bodies are almost parallel to the ground. Their goal is a prize hanging from the top of the swings frame.
The frame of the swing is constructed of solid bamboo. The handles are also made of bamboo that is straight, without knots and wide enough for a persons palm. The swings platform must be close enough to the ground that players can jump on easily.
To ensure safety, builders must choose the right bamboo, for young bamboo is weak, while old bamboo is less elastic and tends to break. They seal their completed frame with paper and invite an elderly villager to check its quality. If the frame meets his standards, he will remove the seal. With that, someone beats a drum. He clasps both hands in front of his chest and bows to his fellow villagers. Then, on behalf of the community, he opens the game.
Players should dress smartly and neatly. Boys wear red purse-belts and girls greenish pulse-belts over traditional four-panel dresses (tu than) and then headscarves so their hair won come loose. Often a boy and girl will swing together.
First, the couple steps onto the swing platform and stands face to face. Then they press their feet against platform floor and bend their knees. Gradually, the swing begins to move like a pendulum. The harder they press, the higher the swing flies, as described in a poem by the 19th-century woman poet Ho Xuan Huong:
The boy bends his knees
The girl bends her back
The four red panels of her skirt fly in the air
Two parallel lines of stretched legs.
At the height or their swinging, the two almost lie on top of one another. The crowd cheers. As soon as the couple reaches the highest point, one of the two will stretch out a hand and try to snatch the prize. This is the most difficult part of the game, for it requires that both players be calm, clever and acts as a team. They lose if they drop the prize. The crowd is just as anxious, hoping the couple manages to secure the prize as a reward for their long days of practice.
This type of swinging is not for those who get dizzy!
Rice cooking compatitions - Nau Com
During Tet, a number of villages in northern and central Vietnam hold cooking contests that may sound simple, but follow strict and complex rules: Cooking in the wind and rain. Tu Trong Village, Thanh Hoa Province has a temple dedicated to the 11th century warrior Le Phung Hieu.
During the temples weeklong festival the first week of Tet, villagers hold culinary competitions: cooking ordinary rice in water, steaming sticky rice and making rice cakes.
Contestants cook in the open air while in a bamboo boat floating on the village pond. Charcoal, the usual fuel, is prohibited. Instead, each competitor receives some dried sugar cane, which burns only with difficulty. The challenge increases if it is windy and raining. Each contestant must set her rice pot in exactly the right place to take advantage of the wind and avoid extinguishing the fire.
The competition begins precisely at dawn. Hundreds of boats are tied up along the pond bank since as many as 200 young women may participate.
After a salvo of drumbeats, competitors step into their boats, bringing along cooking tripods, rice pots, some damp straw and fuel. They row to the centre of the pond, make a fire and wash the rice.
A second salvo of drumbeats sounds, punctuated by three final beats, the competition starts. The cooking may be done in one pot after another or by using all pots al the same time. The tiny, light boat sways with the competitors every movement, keeping the craft stable while cooking is like performing a circus act. The competitor who finishes first wins, but quality also counts. People from many villages watch from the pond bank, mothers who have trained their girls for months impatiently wait for the results of their efforts. Other women take advantage of the occasion to look for prospective daughters-in-law who are both good cooks and can also face difficulties with calmness.
Contests for boys and girls villagers in Chuong Village of Ha Tay Province organise similar competitions separately for boys and girls. Female participants must cook rice on the ground while simultaneously carrying a six-to seven-month-old baby from another family on her hip. She must console the infant when he or she cries. At the same time, she must prevent a toad from jumping out of a chalk circle drawn around her. The competition is all the more difficult because the spectators, especially children, take every opportunity to tease the baby.
The contest for boys is no less rigorous. Each boy must stand ready with all the necessary items (rice, water, matches and firewood) on a light boat moored the pond bank. At a given signal he paddles with his hands to the opposite bank, where a row of pots is placed on tripods. He must stay in his unmoored boat while cooking the rice on the bank. The least loss of balance tosses him over into the water.
In Tich Son Village of Vinh Phuc Province, a cooking competition takes place on the morning of the fourth day after Tet. The finished rice must meet particular criteria of taste and consistency. Contestants use two pots. First they boil the rice in a copper pot over the fire. Once the water boils, they pour both the rice and water into an earthen pot and cook the rice over charcoal until done.
Human chess - Co nguoi
“Human chess” (co nguoi) is a popular game at village and temple festival. The game follows the general rules of Chinese chess. The concept is recognizably similar to Western chess, but with a different-sized board and different pieces, including cannons and guards, each of them marked with a distinct Chinese character.
In human chess, however, the pieces are all people: 32 people in all. One side consists of 16 boys and the other of 16 girls. Each team wears a different colour.
The chessboard is marked by paint on flat ground. Village festivals usually use the yard in front of a communal house or pagoda or a nearby field. Organisers select players plus a referee well in advance. All should be children of families with a good reputation. The referee and the two generals should come from wealthier families so they can treat their players to food. As the selection finishes, the referee convenes the 32 people, describes the costumes, and tells each person how to move as a chess piece. Players may sit on chairs and wear hats if it is sunny. They either wear boards with the Chinese names of their pieces or carry sign poles with the characters. The generals wear traditional costumes. The two contestants who direct the pieces have their own seats outside the board.
In contrast to some other games practiced at festivals, human chess is known for its quietude and delicacy.
Tò He
The village of Xuan La in Phu Xuyen District. Ha Tay Province is well known for its skill in making delicate tohe toys, which are figurines fashioned from coloured rice dough. These simple toys still give children immense joy during the Mid-Autumn season. Tò he makers do not teach the craft to women because the fathers fear their daughters will reveal precious trade secrets to their husbands" families.
According to an old man in Xuan La Village, the recipe for success in making tò he lies in the preparation  of the  dough.  The  craftsman   first grinds rice into fine powder, then pours water into the powder and mixes it until he achieves a sticky lump. He places the lump in a pot of water, brings the water to a boil, and cooks the paste for an hour. When the lump rises to the waters surface, dips, and rises again, the craftsman removes it from the pot. Then he applies seven colours: white. black, green, yellow, violet, pink, and red. Miraculously. the different colours never stain one another when he assembles the parts of a to lie figurine.
Many generations of Vietnamese children have been overjoyed when their mothers return from market with a tò he. Children can even eat to he after playing with them. Each Xuan La craftsman embarking on the to he trade learns to humour customers, especially children. The lesson of humanity is the first one every Xuan La villager bears in mind. "If we love people, they will surely come to us," to he makers say.
Making Tò he doesn bring much profit. The materials rice paste, bamboo-stick holders, colourings - are inexpensive and locally available. A craftsman only charges customers for his patience and care. A Tò he in a rural market costs between VND 500 and VND 1.000 (US$.03 -$.07). Makers who travel farther afield to the larger cities can sell a tò he for between VND 2.000 to VND 3.000 (US$.13 - $.20).
Customers can place their orders, watch the craftsman mould the toy. and be pleased with the results in minutes. A tò he can depict a person, a famous general, a folk-tale character, an animal, or a flower. The makers remember the characteristics of every subject. They are experts in using exactly the right amount of paste to form each separate part of each kind of toy. as if these skills were an inborn talent.
Mr. Dang Van To. who is eighty-two, is the oldest tò he maker in Xuan La. He talks proudly about his life and career. Mr. Tos family has been making tò he for ten generations. He learned the trade when he was six and is nationally known. The Ministry of Culture and Information often asks him to demonstrate to he making at festivals. Mr. Tos passion and skill have not lessened despite his age. He can make every kind of tò he. from kings and mandarins with elaborate imperial costumes to complicated dragons. He can finish an image of King Quang Trung. a national hero, in less than ten minutes.
Mr. To also likes to teach children about the underlying meaning of Id he. He explains that the lifeline of the tò he trade is peoples joy. not money. For example, as Mr. To creates a tò he rat. he explains that rats have pointed noses and long tails, that they destroy farmers crops, and that the children should help get rid of rats. The children are fascinated to listen to Mr. To as they watch the tò he emerge in his hands.
Today, plastic and electronic toys flood city and countryside markets. Although tò he cannot compete. Xuan La villagers still struggle to maintain their traditional trade. At present, about 300 villagers make tò he. Chu Van Nghe. a war veteran who is sixty-seven, still pursues the craft. His four-year-old granddaughter has asked him to teach her to make tò he. Nowadays, many women assist their husbands and families in preserving the village trade. Everyday. Xuan La villagers travel to different corners of the countryside - from hamlets to markets to parks - selling tòhe to children and to he lovers.
Xuan La villagers take pride that, nowadays, id he makers can be found nationwide and even abroad in China. Laos. Cambodia, and Thailand. This proves that the craft has not entirely disappeared. Although a tò he is small, it embodies a lot of the sentiment, honour, and industry that began with Xuan La villagers long, long ago.
The games of squares - O an quan
As society becomes more developed, children become more intelligent. They have more opportunities to watch television shows and play new video games, which are often filled with sex and violence. Consequently, folk games, like o an quan (game of squares), and danh dao (coin toss), seem out-dated and now only adults remember them.
O an quan remains deservedly popular among older children since it requires good counting skills and forethought in order to win.
Either boys or girls, usually age’s seven to ten, play the two-person game of O an quan (literally "Mandarins Box"). They draw a rectangle on the ground and divide it into ten small squares called "rice fields" or "fish ponds.
"They also draw two additional semi-circular boxes at the two ends of the rectangle, which are called"mandarins boxes," hence the games name. Each person has 25 small pebbles and a bigger stone.
Each player places the stone in one of the mandarins boxes and five small pebbles in each of the other squares (see diagram above). Then the game begins. The first player takes up the contents of one square on his or her side of the board (but not a mandarins box) and distributes the pebbles one by one, starting with the next square in either direction. (Since each square contains five pebbles at the beginning, the first move will distribute five pebbles to the left or right).
After the last pebble is distributed, the player takes the contents of the following square and repeats the distribution process. But if the following square is one of the mandarins boxes, the turn ends and passes to the other player.
If the last pebble falls into a square that precedes one empty square, the player wins all the contents of the square following the empty square and removes these pebbles from the board. If this square is followed by another empty square, the player wins the contents of the square after that, and so on. However, if there are two or more empty squares in a row, the player loses his or her turn.
Once a player has taken pebbles from the board, the turn is handed to the other player. If all five squares on one players side of the board are emptied at any time, that player must place one pebble he or she has aside back in each of the five squares so that the game can resume.
The game continues until the two mandarins boxes have both been taken. At the end of the game, the player with more pebbles wins, with each of the large stones counting as ten points. If each player retrieves an equal number of points, then the game is a tie.
Kites that make music - Sáo Diều
The kites are built in a traditional Vietnamese style, known as dieu sao, with eight ovoid wings attached, plus five bamboo flutes in graduated sizes, which are mounted on top and make a pleasing drone when the kite is flying. The faster the kite swoops, the more magical the sound of the flutes is.
Kits are estimated to be 2,000 years old, and are popular across most Asian countries, where kite flying is seen as a sport, hobby and a religious custom. In Indonesia for example, kites are used for sport and also to catch fish.
Childrens kites are often small, simple and covered with paper, while adults kites may be more complex, cloth-covered, and feature one or more wind flutes that play melodies as the kites fly.
A typical adults kite has four parts: the body, the steering string, the flying string and flutes. The frame is made of the smooth outer bamboo stalk and is well polished. Kite-makers shape bamboo straps into a crescent two to three metres long and one metre wide. After that, they cover the frame with pieces of cotton cloth or carefully glued paper. If one half of the kite is heavier than the other, the steering string will help balance it. This string also serves lo direct flight and protect the kite wings from breaking if the wind is too strong. The flying string is also made of bamboo and can be as long as 100m to 150m. Young bamboo straps the size of chopsticks are tied together, then boiled in water or even in traditional Chinese medicine and salt so that the string becomes soft and flexible.
Kites not only attract people by their shapes and colours but also by their flutes. Flutes of different sizes and materials can make the sound of birds, car horns, gongs or music. The mouth of the flute must be skillfully carved so that it can properly receive the wind and create the desired sound.
Today, villagers build more sophisticated kites in the shape of phoenixes, butterflies and dragons. They replace thick bamboo strings with thinner bamboo or plastic rope. Modern kites are very light and cost little since the materials to make them are readily available.
People often fly kites in the late afternoon as the sun begins to set. Normally, two people fly one kite. One person holds the flying string while the other takes the kite and runs into the wind until the wind lifts the kite.
The two may keep the kite high in the sky from day to day, even from summer to autumn.
Every year, kite-flying competitions take place in many northern and central provinces. The rules vary from place to place. In general, the most beautiful kite with the most interesting flute melodies wins. However, Quang Yen Townlet (Quang Ninh Province) holds a kite-fighting competition: regardless of design, kites that hit or break other kites win.

When To Travel To Vietnam

Good time to Travel in Vietnam is from September to June. However, Vietnam has three different regions – the North, the Central and the South – each with different weather patterns and different rainy seasons. This means that there is neither a best time nor a worst time to visit Vietnam. Hot summer or Cold winter is not that a big deal. Nice beaches such as Halong bay, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Mui Ne - Phan Thiet or Phu Quoc Island are always available; Sapa and Dalat highlands offer great places for cool temperature. You can find your favourite kind of weather all year round for your next Vietnam Tours!

 

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