In Hue, spring always seems to come earlier than in other regions, promising rich traditional values.
On the seventh day of the new year, hundreds of people attend a colorful ceremony to lower the New Year tree in the Imperial Palace.
Compared to other parts of the country, spring seems to come earlier in Hue, promising rich traditional values brought by rituals and festivals.
On the 20th day of the 12th lunar month, spring flower markets open in Hue. Tet flowers are transported from all over the country to flower markets in Phu Van Lau Park, Thuong Bac Park, and along Le Quy Don Road on the southern bank of the Huong River. In the past, typical Tet blooms included apricot flowers, chrysanthemums, and local ornamental flowers. Now, other kinds of spring blossoms have been introduced, especially orchids from Dalat and peach blossoms from the North. The former capital city comes alive with vibrant colors.
In this festive atmosphere, the ceremony to erect the New Year tree is held in the Imperial Palace on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month. This officially marks the start of the Tet holidays and celebrates the arrival of spring. The custom of erecting the New Year tree was only revived around a decade ago – a good sign for our traditional culture.
In the first three days of the Lunar New Year, the Imperial Palace and all other historical sites of the former imperial city welcome visitors for free. Many cultural activities draw locals and visitors, including Lion Dances in front of the Meridian Gate, large-scale royal court music performances in the courtyard of Thai Hoa Palace, smaller-scale performances in the courtyard of The To Temple, traditional royal games in the gallery of the Forbidden City, and reenactments of the princess’ wedding, or the Empress Dowager’s return to Dien Tho Palace and Truong Sanh Palace.
At the start of the Lunar New Year, the people of Hue also visit their deceased relatives and go to pagodas. All pagodas are crowded yet serene, as everyone minds their steps and lowers their voices. Most of those visiting Hue’s pagodas are Buddhists looking for peace of mind, not luck or prosperity.
From the fifth day of the Lunar New Year, after visiting friends and relatives, local people go on excursions. Court records show that the royal court made a spring pilgrimage as far back as the reign of Dong Khanh. Instead of starting his spring travels on the fifth day of Tet, Emperor Dong Khanh set out on the first day, right after greeting high-ranking officials in Thai Hoa Palace. In those days, the emperor and his entourage toured the streets to see how the commoners lived.
Nowadays, Hue offers many places for New Year’s outings. Apart from the citadel, tombs, and pagodas, newer attractions include the Truc Lam Bach Ma Zen Monastery, Tam Giang Lagoon, or Phuoc Tich ancient village.
On the seventh day of the New Year, the ceremony to lower the New Year tree is held in the Imperial Palace, watched by hundreds. This ceremony traditionally marked the end of the holidays. The royal court would then resume work as usual. For common folk, this was the beginning of the spring festivities, starting with the festival of the Temple of Princess Huyen Tran held on Ngu Phong Mountain, followed by the wrestling festival of Sinh village in Lai An village and the Fishermen’s Festival in Thai Duong Ha village near Thuan An Estuary. The third dates back more than 500 years and is one of the biggest fishermen’s festivals in Central Vietnam.
The second lunar month brought agricultural rituals. In the past, the Giao Worship Ceremony to Heaven was held in this month to wish for prosperity for the nation, peace for the people, and good weather for farming. Next came the Xa Tac Worship Ceremony, to worship the God of the Earth and the God of Grains, and pray for bumper crops. In this month, the royal court would also organize the Plowing Ceremony, in which the emperor would plow a designated plot of land to demonstrate his support for agriculture. Today, the Giao Worship Ceremony is held once every two years, usually at the start of the Hue Cultural Festival, while the Xa Tac Worship Ceremony is held annually. These traditional festivals and rituals give spring in Hue a unique brilliance.