Tet – Traditional New Year
TET TAO QUAN – Kitchen God Anniversary
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 manifests not only the cozy family union, but also the bumper harvest and agricultural development.
The whole thing is bundled up and boiled for 10 hours. When the cakes are removed from the water they are pressed closely together with a heavy weight and left to settle.
Everyone has their own secret ingredient but the most important part of the process is to show care and respect for the ingredients used.
Bamboo string is used to separate the cake into eight pieces and Banh Chung is usually served with salted onion to increase the appetite. Although the onrush of modern society means less people are preparing their own Banh Chung, those that still do the work can rest assured they are bringing together the essence of Heaven and Earth.