|A paper votive object vendor|
VietNamNet Bridge - Several days before Tet Ong Tao on the 23rd of the lunar December (January 30), Hanoians start their preparations for the Kitchen God’s journey to Heaven where he will report to the Jade Emperor.
Tet Ong Tao is considered the first ritual of the lunar New Year week and every family works hard to prepare; dishes and customs include pork pie, banh chung, carp, paper votive objects, flowers, incense, etc.
Shops selling paper votive and other worshipping objects on the streets of Hang Ma, Luong Van Can, Hang Bong and Hang Dao are bustling with activity, this is their busiest week of the year. Thanh, the owner of a shop on Hang Ma Street, said she began selling paper-made Kitchen God’s clothes, hats, shoes, money, gold, etc. last week but today, the 22nd day of lunar December (January 29), is the busiest. Hanoians are rushing to the to buy worshipping objects and paper-made products for Tet Ong Tao.
“Luxury orders like high-rise buildings, cars, etc. must be placed in advance. People think the afterlife is similar to ours, so many people are willing to pay millions of VND for paper votive objects that satisfy those in the next world,” Thanh said.
Though worshipping objects serving Tet Ong Tao are sold everywhere, Hoa in Hai Ba Trung Street, Hanoi, goes to Hang Ma Street every year for her supply. Besides clothes, hats, shoes and money, Hoa often buys a live carp to give to the Kitchen God by releasing it into Hoan Kiem Lake.
According to some sellers on Hang Ma Street, the worshipping object market this year is the same as previous years, but the prices are 10-15% higher than last year. A set of objects including three hats, three sets of clothes and three pairs of shoes cost VND25,000 – VND50,000. Motorbikes, cars, rice cookers, etc. are priced from 20,000 to millions of VND.
At markets, there has been an atmosphere of Tet Tao Quan for several days and the prices for worshipping objects have been increasing. This year, live carp are not sold abundantly at markets in Hanoi like previous years. The owner of a seafood shop in Nghia Tan market said this year people prefer paper carps because they are afraid of bringing fish to lakes or ponds to release.
Some small ornamental fish shops and fish vendors are selling red and yellow Japanese carps, which are priced VND20,000-VND25,000 a pair, bronze carps for VND35,000-40,000 a pair and silver carps for VND80,000-100,000 a pair.
Paper votive object vendors are sprouting up everywhere in Hanoi. They go to each alley to serve Hanoians at their door with cheap products. A set of worshipping objects for Kitchen God with three hats, three pairs of shoes, three sets of clothes and three carps costs only VND8,000-10,000, compared to VND25,000-50,000 at shops.
The Vietnamese have a custom of seeing off Ong Conga (the Land Genie) and Ong Tao (the Kitchen God) on the 23rd day of lunar December. Both go to Heaven to brief Ngoc Hoang (the Jade Emperor) on the life of the owner of the house where they stay, and pray for luck, prosperity and happiness. On New Year’s Eve, both Gods will come back to earth and continue their routine duty of looking after the kitchen of the house.
The custom of worshipping Ong Conga and Ong Tao originated from a myth that dates from ancient time. There was a couple, so poor that they had to go far away to earn their living. They lost each other. After a long time of unsuccessfully looking for her husband, the wife married another man. One day, her old husband unintentionally called at her house to beg for food. The old couple recognized each other. Feeling sad and embarrassed at the situation and unfaithful to the old husband, the wife jumped into the fire and burned to death. The old husband, sorry for the wife, also jumped into the fire, as did the new husband. Hearing about their faithful love, the jade Emperor permitted the three of them to live together as the Kitchen God to enjoy the blessings.
On the Ong Cong and Ong Tao festival day, people usually prepare steamed sticky rice with sugar porridge, truncated cone-shaped cookies made of sticky rice, incense joss sticks and flowers for a worshipping ceremony. They also prepare a basin of water in which they put one big live carp or three small ones. After the ceremony, the carp are released into the pond or the river. This custom has two meanings. First, as popular thinking goes, the carp can swim well and it will pass Vu Moon (Heaven’s gate) to become a dragon. Thus, Ong Cong and Ong Tao ride a carp, i.e. a dragon, to heaven. Second, the custom of releasing the carps refers to a custom of releasing animals, such as birds into the air and the beasts into the forest , which is considered a kindhearted deed to pray for good luck.
The custom of worshipping Ong Cong and Ong Tao as the Land Genie and Kitchen God has a humanist value, reflecting the family happiness. The fire in the kitchen manifest