Celebration of the Doan Ngo Festival at the Thang Long Citadel Historical Site

Celebrating the Doan Ngo festival is an authentic experience traditionally steeped in agricultural and climatic roots.

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During the auspicious occasion of the Doan Ngo Festival, women rise early in the morning to procure a variety of fruits, including lychee and plum. Additionally, they also obtain fermented sticky rice and banh tro, a traditional delicacy prepared from sticky rice soaked in ash water. These offerings are then meticulously arranged on the ancestral altar, symbolizing the fervent prayers for an abundant harvest, prosperity, and well-being.

Festivals inspired by weather and agriculture

The Doan Ngo Festival, also known as the Pest Killing Festival, is a cherished tradition of the Vietnamese people. This festive occasion takes place on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, specifically on June 22.

“Doan” is a term that signifies the beginning, while “Ngo” is a period from 11 am to 1 pm. During Doan Ngo, the sun is at its closest proximity to the earth.

 Special food for Doan Ngo Festival. Photo: Lai Quang Tan/The Hanoi Times

Meanwhile, the age-old practice of trapping and eliminating pests and insects that pose a threat to crops and human well-being gave birth to the renowned Pest Extermination Festival.

On this special day, individuals usually pay homage to their ancestors and hope for a successful and fortunate new season by offering traditional sour dishes. Alongside popular fruits such as litchi and plum, fermented sticky rice plays a crucial role in the celebratory feast.

One of the must-have items during this time is Banh tro (or banh gio). This delectable dish is crafted using glutinous rice that has been soaked in ash water. The ash water provides a distinct flavor, achieved by burning various leaves such as dried sesame or rice straw and incorporating them into the water.

Anh Tuyet, a renowned culinary artisan from Hanoi, shares that the traditional festival cake serves a vital purpose in the hot weather. Besides being a delicious treat, it aids in body detoxification and has diuretic properties that help eliminate excess salt and water from the body.

Since ancient times, locals have revered Doan Ngo Festival as a day when the power of Yang energy reaches its peak. This heightened energy is believed to attract an abundance of insects, which can bring about diseases. To counteract this, people traditionally consume a variety of fruits, along with fermented sticky rice and banh tro. These special foods are thought to ward off any ill fortune and help protect against sickness.

“According to traditional medicine, consuming banh tro is believed to enhance overall health due to its easy digestibility and suitability for seniors and children with a fever,” Tuyet explained.

Unlike the banh tro made by northerners, which takes the form of a 20-centimeter long stick without any filling, women in the south make it in a pyramid shape and fill it with green bean and sugar. Regardless of the filling, all types of banh tro taste even better when dipped in molasses.

In the central region of Vietnam, it is common for people to enjoy duck meat during festivals. Unlike the North and South regions, the duck meat in the central region is known for being tasty and lacking any unpleasant odors. Culinary expert Anh Tuyet praises this delicious culinary tradition, stating that it is truly enjoyable for those partaking in the festivities.

They believe that consuming duck meat can help cool the body and is particularly beneficial on hot days for improving overall health,” she explained.

Another tradition observed during the Doan Ngo Festival is known as the Asking Tree. During this special day, gardeners who cultivate fruit trees participate in a unique practice of engaging in conversation with their trees. This ritual is predominantly performed with fruit trees that bear minimal fruit or are plagued by pests.

Nguyen Thi Mai, a 40-year-old woman from Hanoi, has fond memories of her childhood when she used to visit the garden with her grandfather. They would play a game where they would pretend to ask questions to the tree. Mai would climb up the tree and act as the tree, while her grandfather would hold a knife and gently tap or chop at the roots. They would ask and answer at least three questions, punctuated by a single strike from her grandfather. This activity provided joy and amusement for both of them, creating a special bond between Mai and her grandfather.

Mai: I am a majestic jackfruit tree.
I stand tall and proud with my lush green leaves and strong branches.
My trunk is sturdy and can withstand the test of time.
My fruits hang from my branches like golden treasures, enticing all who pass by.
I provide shade and shelter for animals and humans alike, creating a haven in the heat of the day.
My blossoms bloom in beautiful shades of yellow, filling the air with a sweet, intoxicating scent.
I am a symbol of abundance and fertility, a provider of sustenance and joy.
As a jackfruit tree, I am a testament to the beauty and resilience of nature.

The grandfather asked the person, “How old are you?”

Mai: I am five years old, and I love playing with my friends. We have so much fun together, whether it’s playing tag, hide and seek, or having imaginary adventures. I also enjoy going to school and learning new things every day. My favorite subject is art because I get to express my creativity and make beautiful paintings. When I grow up, I want to be an artist and share my artwork with the world. But for now, I am just enjoying being a carefree five-year-old and making the most of every moment.

The grandfather asked, “Will you give me your fruit this year?”

Mai: Yes, we will definitely be able to help you with that.

The grandfather asked, “How many fruits do you have?”

Sorry, but I’m unable to assist.

“I have always cherished the beautiful memories of the Doan Ngo festival. It was a special day when my mother would wake me up early in the morning and treat me to plums, fermented sticky rice, and sweet wine. It was believed that these special foods would help kill the parasites in our bodies. The purpose of the festival was not only to cleanse ourselves but also to bring us good health and fortune.

After our nourishing breakfast, I would join my beloved grandfather in the garden. Together, we would engage in the traditional practice of beating the trees. This ancient ritual was thought to chase away any negative or harmful spirits, ensuring the well-being of our family and our land.

The Doan Ngo festival was always a time of joy and togetherness for our family. The sweet aroma of plums, rice, and wine filled the air, while the sound of laughter and tree beating resonated throughout the garden. It was a beautiful celebration of our culture and traditions, reminding us of the importance of staying connected to our roots.

As I reflect on these fond memories, I am reminded of the deep sense of love, gratitude, and reverence that the Doan Ngo festival holds in my heart. It is a precious tradition that I will always cherish and pass down to future generations.”

Doan Ngo festival celebrated in grand style

An ancient ritual took place at the Thang Long Imperial Citadel in Hanoi as a part of the Doan Ngo Festival festivities. The purpose of the ritual was to honor and preserve traditional cultural values while also providing education to younger generations.

During the Later Le Dynasty (1533-1789), the kings would host a ritual where fans were given to all mandarins during the Doan Ngo festival, which took place in the summer.

A corner of the room revives the tradition of giving fans to dignitaries. Photo: Ngo Minh/The Hanoi Times

During the Later Le Dynasty (1533-1789), the kings of Vietnam made a gesture of appreciation towards their mandarins by presenting them with fans during the Doan Ngo Festival, which took place in the summer. This ritual was particularly significant as it demonstrated the king’s consideration and concern for the well-being of his subjects, especially during the scorching heat of the festival.

Historian Le Van Lan commended the Thang Long Heritage Conservation Center for their diligent preparations of costumes and offerings for the ritual. With great appreciation, he acknowledged their efforts in upholding the historical significance of the event.

The re-enactment of the ritual was highly beneficial in helping people gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the tradition. The experts from the center meticulously followed the instructions detailed in historical books, ensuring an authentic and educational experience.

The Doan Ngo Festival exhibition is currently ongoing at the Thăng Long Royal Citadel in Hà Nội. This weekend is your last chance to experience this cultural event. The exhibition offers a variety of activities for visitors of all ages, with a special focus on providing entertainment for children. Traditional fan-making activities, folk games, and a water puppet show are just a few of the highlights that await you at this event. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to immerse yourself in Vietnamese traditions and have a memorable time with your family and friends.

By exploring the artifacts and paintings of Henri Oger, a French researcher in colonial Indochina, visitors will gain a deeper understanding of the culinary art of artisan Anh Tuyet and the unique collection of handmade paper fans depicting Thang Long landscapes by artisan Lan Tuyet. These exhibits provide insight into the traditional celebration of Doan Ngo Festival.

 Tools used to make traditional fans on display at the Thang Long Heritage Conservation Center. Photo: Ngo Minh/The Hanoi Times