Deal with the devil: An old Vietnamese custom for a peaceful new year

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A bamboo pole which represents people's protection against devils during Tet was raised at Hue former citadel on February 11, 2015. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre A bamboo pole which represents people's protection against devils during Tet was raised at Hue former citadel on February 11, 2015. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre

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Officials at Hue's cultural preservation center raised a bamboo pole at the former citadel on Wednesday, a custom that kickstarts the celebration for the Lunar New Year Festival.
The Nguyen Dynasty, Vietnam’s last royal family who stayed at the citadel between 1802 and 1945, used to raise the first pole and families in the country would follow.
The pole is known as neu in Vietnamese, representing the fight between good and evil and the protection for people against devils during the country’s biggest holiday.
According to Vietnamese legends, devils once occupied the whole land. They forced people to work on rice fields for them. 
The devils set the rule that they got the top parts of all rice plants, which were the grains, while the farmers only got the roots. 
The Buddha showed up to help them, telling them to switch to sweet potatoes and they could have all the edible roots. 
The devils were angry. They said they would take both the top and the root parts from the next crop, leaving the farmers the middle parts.
The Buddha asked people to plant corn.
Again, the devils were so angry they forced people to leave.
The Buddha asked people to try to negotiate with the devils for a piece of land the size of a shirt's shadow. 
The devils agreed, thinking that such a piece of land would be too small.
So the Buddha asked people to put the shirt on the top of a bamboo pole. He then used magic to lift the pole to the sky, creating a very large shadow from the shirt. 
The devils had to move out to the sea. They were only allowed to go back to the land during Tet. 
That’s why people put up the poles to remind them of their boundary.
The practice of raising neu trees has lost its popularity in this modern life and only takes place at major cultural centers. Some offerings, including votive paper and wine, for heaven will be tied to the top of the pole.
The poles will be taken down on the seventh day of the lunar year, to let people know that the festival has ended and they can resume normal activities.
 

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