For some East Asian countries, the full moon day on the 15th of the first lunar month has a special meaning. It is the first day of the year that people can see a full moon, shining through a long night.
Therefore, in China, people often organise the Nguyen Tieu Festival (the first night). They hang lanterns and flowers everywhere to celebrate the festive day. Young people go out through the night and sing love songs in the full moonlight. Many romantic love stories have their roots in the day.
In Vietnam, the 15th day of the first lunar month is called Thuong Nguyen Festival (the highest opening). In the old days, local people went outside to welcome the full moon at night. Young people often gathered in separate groups for males and females. They stood around a banian tree at a village gate or around a lake in the middle of the village. Sometimes, young couples went to the top of a hill beside a river or met in a flower garden to sing together and exchange loving words. A common songs goes:
"We are grateful to the Mid-Jan night
In the presence of the full moon
Like a matchmaker
We declare our love"
Young couples continued:
"The bright moon is shining on the peach garden
You, two girls standing over there, ever get married?"
The swing made before the traditional Lunar New Year Festival (Tet) was also a common thing that young men and women liked to play with in the hope of prolonging the springtime. Afterwards, they walked around their village and talked confidentially to each other in the full moonlight.
As time passes, the Thuong Nguyen Festival began to be held in pagodas. On the day, all pagodas in both rural and urban areas organise various cultural and religious activities and open their doors to welcome visitors from all walks of life. Not only Buddhist followers but also non-religious people, especially women, often pay tribute and offer incense at pagodas or at home to show gratitude and respect to the Gods and their ancestors. Vietnamese people have an old saying: "Worshipping Buddhism around the year is not as meaningful as during the Lunar Mid-January Festival, or Thuong Nguyen Festival". Therefore, everyone wants to go to pagodas to offer incense to their ancestors and Gods on the day. Old women often go to the pagodas to pray for better lives, condemn evils and praise great sacrifices conducted in the community and humankind around the world.
In Vietnam, many young lovers also go to pagodas to pray for endless love. Gods seem understand their love and always create the most favourable conditions for them to realise their dream.
In fact, the Thuong Nguyen Festival originates from a legend as follows. The first day and the 15th day of lunar months are Buddha’s days. Therefore, Buddhists followers often offer incense and present votive offerings to worship Buddha on these days. On the first day of lunar months, the night is very dark, while the moon lights up the night on the 15th day, especially on the 15th day of the first lunar month of a year. This is the holy time when Buddha visits the world of human beings and calls on pagodas to help people overcome difficulties and bring happiness, good luck and prosperity to everyone.
Two or three centuries ago, Taoism penetrated Buddhism. Taoism considers the 15th day of the first lunar month as the birthday of Heaven’s mandarins. This is a good chance for people to present offerings at home or at pagodas so as to ward off misfortune. Offerings often include fruits, betel and areca, steamed glutinous rice and cone-shaped cookie made of rice flour, tea, wine and votive papers. This encourages people to go to pagodas to pray for good luck and avoid misfortune. In the current process of transition to a market-oriented economy, there are many good opportunities, but there remain many risks. Hence, praying for a better life becomes more and more popular on the full moon day of the first lunar month and pagodas are full of people offering incense and other offerings.
VOV - (24/02/2005)