Vu Lan Festival traditions still alive and strong

People all over Vietnam have been preparing offerings for their ancestors and attending activities during Vu Lan festival.

The street selling votive paper products have been busier, restaurants offering vegetarian food have been filled with an abundance of customers, and people have been flocking to pagodas to pray for the deceased in honour of Vu Lan Festival.

Which motorbike is better? (Photo by T. Nguyen)

Vu Lan festival, also known as the Amnesty of Unquiet Spirits, is held during the seventh month of the lunar calendar. It is a chance for Vietnamese children to honour their parents and try to help the lost souls of their ancestors find their way back to earth.

Activities during the month include preparing ritualistic food offerings, burning incense, and burning joss paper, a paper-mache form of material items such as clothes, gold, bank notes and other fine goods for the visiting spirits of the ancestors.

In Hanoi, during the Vu Lan holiday, Hang Ma Street selling votive paper products are the busiest.

From the beginning of the 7th month of the lunar calendar, Thu, came to Hang Ma Street where sells votive paper products in order to buy necessary offerings for her family’s Vu Lan.

Votive paper products sold out on Hang Ma street (Photo by T. Nguyen)

In order to meet various demands of customers, the whole of Hang Ma street displays and sells many kinds of votive paper products ranging from traditional items such as ao tu than (4-part dress), coi trau (Betel chewing kit), non la (palm-leaf conial hat) or horse drawn carts to modern items such as cars, motorbikes, fridges or televisions.

In addition, votive paper multi-floor houses were made in a very sophisticated manner. A good 3 floor house cost about VND180,000-250,000 ($9.1-12.7). A good quality paper car or motorbike sells for about VND80,000-100,000 ($4.1-5.1). A television or fridge might sell for about VND50,000 ($2.5).

A standard offerings kit could cost a total of nearly VND1.2 million ($61). However, according to sellers here, many rich customers were willing to spend dozens of millions of dong on very expensive kits.

A shop owner on Hang Ma Street shared that they had sold out of expensive offerings since the 14th of the month. Now they have only normal offerings left.

In Ho Chi Minh City, goods for the festival varied but the customer demand was not remarkable. In big markets, the number of sellers seemed to be more than buyers.

Many customers go to enjoy vegetarian food during Vu Lan

Nguyen Thi Hien, selling vegetarian food said the prices and demand for vegetarian food during this festival were not so high. She presumed that heavy rains made many people not want to go to markets.

An agent selling votive paper products in Binh Tay market, Ho Chi Minh City said, “The number of customers had increased for this half month but they did not buy much. We expected that they would have many customers buying large offerings kits this year. We did not know that our sales result would turn out like this.”

However, many special programmes for the festival held in restaurants and at tourism sites attracted quite a lot of visitors. Suoi Tien Tourism site received over 1,000 monks from Ho Chi Minh City and its neighbouring provinces, cities as well as thousands of tourists and locals on the opening ceremony of the festival.

In addition, many restaurants offering vegetarian food had lured customers as well.

Thien, living in District 3 said, “On this occasion I want to take my parents to a good restaurant to enjoy vegetarian dishes. They often prepare this kind of food at home but on this day I want them to have time to take rest.”

According to a vegetarian restaurant owner on Road 3/3, District 10, many families here are tending to welcome the festival at vegetarian restaurants because it’s not easy to prepare vegetarian dishes at home.

In Hue City, many young people were excited to visit pagodas, the gravestones of their ancestors or making vegetarian food at home.

Many young people go to pagodas to pray for their ancestors

Nguyen Hoang Nguyen living in Hue City said, “It’s a traditional festival in our country so we should honour and celebrate it.”

Le Thi Dung, studying at Nguyen Hue Secondary School shared, “It’s great because my mother and I will go to the market and buy fruit and food to offer our ancestors and dead grandparents.”

Nguyen Cong, a student said, “I was born in Quang Nam Province but I am studying in Hue City. I went to the pagoda to pray for my parents to have good health.”

In Nghe An Province, Quan Lau, Quang Trung and Ga Vinh markets have been full of customers who out to buy offerings for the deceased. Votive paper products had the best sales.

Nguyen Thi Chau had bought many things such as joss paper, a paper car, a fridge and more. She believes that it’s necessary to give the dead essential items which the living use on earth.

Thai Thi Thuy, a seller in Quang Trung market said she tried to give the dead as many offerings as possible on this day.

There are many kinds of votive paper products (Photo by Nguyen Duy – Thanh Ha)