This story was adapted from “The Treasury of Vietnamese Folk Tales”
Illustrator: Nguyen Minh Son
There once lived a very kind little girl. She loved her family, her neighbours and even the three Mountain Kitchen Gods who suffered blazing fire to cook for mortals. The old Kitchen God sometimes rose to talk with the girl and her sister.
Knowing the Kitchen God yearned for a carp to fly back to heaven at the end of the year, the girls caught a carp, put it into the fire and said: “We give you this carp, Kitchen God!”. The carp immediately disappeared. in the evening of December 23, the two girls saw the Kitchen God riding the carp up to heaven.
The girls’ father was an exceptional hunter. At the age of five, the younger girl begged her father to teach her martial arts and how to hunt. Small as she was, neighbours and even the three amazed by her strength.
Some time later, her father grew sick and frail. Another horrible monster appeared in the land. This one had the head of a human and the body of a python. People begged the girl and her father to come to their rescue.
The little girl was ready but her frail father said: “I will accompany you, but only to help.” The girl’s mother and sister were worried. But the girl said: “Mother, although i’m little i will succeed. father and i will return when we’ve slain it.”
The mother and sister had no choice but to help prepare for their departure. “What colour would you like me to dye your shirt?” asked the girl’s mother.
“I like yellow best,” said the girl.
The mother pounded turmeric to dye her daughter’s shirt. Dressed in her yellow shirt, the girl looked strong and bright. She told her mother and sister: “After slaying the monster, I will wear this shirt so you will recognise me from afar.” Before setting off, she made sacrifices to the Mountain Kitchen God. “I will return and tell you how I killed the monster,” she promised.
The girl and her father fought the monster for two days, but were unable to kill it. The father grew weaker. His daughter said: “Dad, tomorrow I will spear the monster’s tail to a tree trunk and its trunk to another. When it can’t move, we can chop off its head.”
“It’s a good strategy,” said her father. “But be careful it does not free its tail.”
Knowing that her family and the villagers loved her, the girl longed to return to them. She begged the earth god to transform her into a bright yellow bird. Changed into a bird she flew back to her homeland and informed the Mountain Kitchen God: “My god, I was crushed by the monster. I fear my mother and sister won’t survive if they learn I am dead. This Lunar December 23, please beg the emperor of heaven to resurrect me.”
The bright yellow bird flew away. Seeing it, the mother and sister knew the girl was gone. The mother fainted by the fire. The Mountain Kitchen God put his warm hands on her forehead and said: “I will beg the emperor of heaven to resurrect her.” On Lunar December 23 he departed and returned on the 28th. “The emperor took pity on your girl, yet her death was overdue,” he told the family. “He can only resurrect her for nine days.”
Suddenly, the girl’s family heard a cry: “Dad! Mom! Sister!” The little girl appeared in her yellow shirt and spent nine joyful days with her family. On the ninth night, no sooner had the girl hugged her parents farewell when she faded away. The family mourned her, but hoped she would return next year. Sure enough, on the afternoon of Lunar December 29, the girl returned in her yellow shirt.
Each year, the little girl spent the first nine days of spring with her family and the villagers. After her father, mother and sister passed away, she no longer returned. She transformed herself into a flowering tree that grew before the temple dedicated to her. For most of the year, this tree had few leaves. But at Tet, it burst into gorgeous yellow apricot flowers that lasted for around nine days, then fell to the ground.
In Central and South Vietnam, people buy apricot flowers to dedicate to their ancestors. As well as brightening their homes for the Lunar New Year, these flowers are thought to ward off evil.