Tết Đoan Ngọ: Vietnam Solstice and the Summer Parasite Purge

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On the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar year, residents of Hue annually celebrate Tết Đoan Ngọ. A lousy comparison would be to the summer solstice but while the origins stem back in time by an equally impressive distance, the practices of Tết Đoan Ngọ are considerably different.

Tết Đoan Ngọ is considered the 2nd most important date of the lunar calendar as the beginning of the 2nd half of the year. Tết Đoan Ngọ roughly translates as the afternoon when the ocean is at its calmest. Its celebration stems back as far as ancient Chinese dynasties and has long been a part of Vietnamese folklore. Celebratory customs vary from region to region but some of Tết Đoan Ngọ most renowned rituals are still practiced in Hue where there is a strong emphasis on retaining ties to cultural heritage.

A lot of traditional practices of Tết Đoan Ngọ relate to Vietnam’s agrarian social history. Tết Đoan Ngọ occurs in the middle of central Vietnam’s hottest months, when farmers would rid pests from their lands and prepare for the next season’s harvest. It is also a period when people were most susceptible to contracting parasites and outbreaks of disease frequently occurred. Therefore, there is a focus on maintaining one’s health with natural remedies and preventatives. Familys celebrate Tết Đoan Ngọ within the confinements of home. You won’t find a public event to join but if you’re invited to someone’s home to take part in the celebrations, grab right at the opportunity.

What People Eat on Tết Đoan Ngọ

A lot of Sino-Vietnamese traditional food classification systems originate from the ancient concept of yin-yang. People that follow traditional health practice constantly balance various elements in pursuit of good health and longevity. All foods are categorised by their ‘heat’. At Tết Đoan Ngọ, Hue people eat duck for its ‘cooling’ properties that counteract central Vietnam’s hot summer days. Ducks at this time of the year are also plumper and people believe this is when duck meat tastes best. Unless farmed at home, ducks are often bought live from the market and prepared in the kitchen. Duck is served in numerous ways including vịt quay (roasted duck), cháo vịt (duck porridge) bún vịt xáo măng (stir-fried duck noodles) and vịt luộc chấm nước mắm gừng (boiled duck with ginger and fermented shrimp paste).

As mentioned, the hot weather leaves farmers and rural inhabitants susceptible to illness.  Seasonal fruits (lychees, mangosteen and dragonfruit), leaf greens and rice wine are consumed for nutritional boosts and in prevention of parasites. These foods were traditionally picked and shared amongst communities in rural areas, but farmers have also brought stock and produce to cities to sell these foods to the urban population.

As with most auspicious days in Vietnam, there is also ancestral worship (cúng) within family households to maintain or improve family fortune for the rest of the year. After cooking and preparation, the duck and other dishes are often presented on the ancestral altar during worship before being consumed by the family.

What People Do During Tết Đoan Ngọ

Aside from the ancestral worship, some families in agricultural areas around Hue hold the tradition of a thorough body cleansing. People will include lime to their face wash to remove impurities from the skin and squeeze juice into their eyes to keep good sight. They may also bathe in scented leaves to prevent diseases and ward off parasites and insects.

While Tết Đoan Ngọ’s significance is absent in English-language publications about Vietnamese culture, it’s still an integral part to Vietnam’s calendar year.

Why the Dickens are there No Images in this Article?

I made the mistake of writing this article in the morning of Tết Đoan Ngọ and heading out to markets in the afternoon. Of course, most produce is sold in the mornings so that houses can prepare meals and household processions for lunch. By the time I made it out, the only ducks available in the city were those already cooked and sold to those who couldn’t get enough of their roasted duck.



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