The Vietnamese Lunar calendar is peppered with a fascinating mixture of religious ceremonies and festivals. Many festivals in Vietnam are Chinese in origin, some have their origins in Khmer and Cham culture while others are specific to any one of the many minority ethnic groups living throughout Vietnam. There are festivals to honour religious figures and ancestors, festivals to celebrate the harvest or hunting period in rural areas and festivals to remember and commemorate Vietnam’s tumultuous past.
The lunar calendar is followed in Vietnam as opposed to the Gregorian calendar followed by most of the rest of the world. A lunar month lasts 29-30 days with the first day (the full moon) and the fourteenth or the fifteenth day (the new moon) being particularly significant, especially for Buddhist Vietnamese.
Although the majority of festivals in Vietnam take place around New Year and early springtime, there is are also a number of ceremonies and celebrations that take place around the autumn months.
The most significant of these festivals is the Mid-Autumn Harvest Festival. Also celebrated in China, the festival is held on the fifteenth day of the eight month in the lunar, always during a full moon. In Chinese culture, this festival dates back over 3000 years and celebrates the three concepts of gathering (in terms of people and crops), thanksgiving and praying. The festival’s activities and rituals all revolve around the worship of the moon. Moon cakes made from sticky rice are prepared and eaten, colourful lanterns line the streets and traditional lion dances often take place.
Ooc Om Boc Festival
Ooc Om Boc is an important festival amongst the ethnic Khmer community and takes place during the tenth full moon. The largest Khmer communities in Vietnam reside in the Tra Vinh and Soc Trang province so this is where the most atmospheric celebration takes place. Again, this festival is focussed on worship of the moon and praying and giving thanks for a plentiful harvest. Customs include giving food-based offerings to the moon when it reaches its highest position at midnight, dance performances, music and artistic exhibitions. The Ooc Om Boc festival also features a sacred boat race where local men and women race special timber boats accompanied by gongs and drums along the riverbank.
The Kate Festival is celebrated by the Cham ethnic minority in Vietnam. This festival lasts for three whole days and is concerned with honouring the Cham people’s fallen heroes. Traditionally, the Kate festival takes place in three temples in the Ninh Thuan province on the first day of the seventh month in the Cham calendar which is about the ninth or tenth month in the lunar calendar. Similar to Balinese Hinduism, the temple ceremonies of the Cham people include bathing statues and changing their costumes, offering gifts of food to the ancestors, dancing, singing and chanting. Performances and rituals also take place in individual villages and within each family’s home over the course of the three days. The Cham people welcome foreigners to watch and take part in this sacred festival.
Keo Pagoda Festival
The festival held at Keo Pagoda in the Thai Binh Province of Vietnam lasts for three days and is one of the most unusual and most spectacular festivals of the autumn season. Taking place on the thirteenth to fifteenth day of the ninth lunar month, this festival takes place in order to worship the Buddhist priest Khong Lo-Ly Quoc Su. The main rituals that make this festival curious are the long processions orchestrated to tell the story of Khong Lo’s life and death. A swimming takes place during this festival as do various traditional folk dances and performances.
Kiep Bac Temple Festival
Held between the fifteenth and twentieth day of the eighth lunar month, the Kiep Bac Temple festival is in honour of Tran Quoc Tuan-Saint Tran, the famous general who led the Vietnamese Army to victory in the 13th century during their long battle against Mongol invaders. The celebration begins with a procession on land, followed by a procession on water, an incense ritual at the temple and evening lion and dragon dances. Again the festival closes with a traditional boat race on the nearby Luc Dau River.
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