Nguyen Phuoc Bao Hien, 85, who calls the Nguyen Dynasty Emperor Duy Tan (1900-1945) uncle, still remembers the old days when he attended Tet holiday celebrations in the royal palace in Hue Town.
The old man, whose father is Nguyen Phuoc Vinh Vu, younger brother of the emperor, now lives in a small house near the An Lang relic site, where he spent his childhood with his grandmother and his grandfather's 22 concubines. The site is a place where three emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty - Duc Duc, Thanh Thai, and Duy Tan are worshipped.
A VnExress newswire report describes the wheelchair-bound Hien, head of the royal Nguyen Phuoc clan, opening a diary with yellowed pages in which he has recorded his experiences of Tet at the palace in the past.
Palace maids began preparing for the festival a one month earlier, Hien notes.
The preparation of altar offerings, tributes for the emperor and empress, princes and princesses as well as other royal family members and courtiers together with flags hung on palace and citadel gates brought festive spirit to the palace earlier than outside.
The Ban soc ceremony was held on the first day of the last lunar month to release the new calendar for the new year. The calendar, after being reviewed by the emperor, was conferred to officials in charge of Thai Hoa Palace by high ranking officials.
The calendar was then sent to provinces and other localities, according to Hien.
"Ban soc ceremony was followed by the Tien xuan ceremony which makes offering to the earth, and the Phat thuc ceremony on the 20th day of the last lunar month," he said.
The Phat thuc ceremony is more important as it is the time for the royal family to clean and make an inventory of royal seals, which means an inventory of national treasures kept in the palace.
The ceremony, which featured several courtiers who used vases with flowers and water from the Huong (Perfume) River and red cloths to wipe the seals, officially kicked off the festive season during which the royal court was not in session.
After the last royal ritual held in temples inside the palace, at noon on the last day of the last lunar month, the emperor hosted a ceremony at the Thai Hoa Palace behind Ngo Mon Gate to plant a Neu tree (New Year tree made of male bamboo grass). Following the emperor, the people also raised several neu trees in their houses and temples across the country.
According to Hien, areca nuts and several tributes placed in a small basket were hung on top of the royal neu tree.
"The first royal court ceremony of the year was held at 7am on the first day of the first lunar month at Thai Hoa Palace, where the emperor's throne is placed. Courtiers in their ceremonial costumes lined up according to their ranking, from the highest to the lowest, and were joined by a royal court music band."
As the most important, solemn ceremony in Tet, the emperor wore a cuu long (nine dragons) crown, his most beautiful robe with belt decorated with jades, sat on the throne, waiting for three strings of drums and gunfire of cannons. After the royal music band performed the Ly binh song, the courtiers presented their wishes written on papers and bowed down to the emperor five times, wishing him a long life.
After the ceremony, the emperor and his courtiers left the place. "However, during the reign of Emperor Bao Dai, who had been influenced by western culture, he led his people and Western guests to the Can Chanh Palace and invited them a glass of champagne," Hien said.
In addition, the last emperor of Vietnam also allowed the empress and children to feast together during the holiday, instead of eating alone like his predecessors.
The king also held a ceremony to show his piety toward the Empress Dowager, and invited other concubines of the previous emperor to attend Tet holiday at the palace.
Hien said he and other royal family members were also allowed to visit the palace during this time and eat royal food. Thanks to these opportunities, Hien, in collaboration with the Huong Giang Hotel in Hue, has helped restore the royal cuisine, winning the appreciation of both local and foreign tourists.
The emperor also gifted new clothes or fabric placed in gilded boxes engraved with images of dragons to high ranking officials and gave golden coins to others.
A ceremony to take down the neu tree on the seventh day ended the holiday in the palace. However, it was not until the Khai An ceremony was held in the last week of the first lunar month that things would return to normal.
Hien now takes the charge of the An Lang Relic Site. He rides his chair every day to burn incense to the three emperors and is always willing to tell visitors stories about them in both Vietnamese and French.
Phan Thanh Hai, deputy director of Hue Relics Preservation Center, said Hien's work plays an important role in promoting Hue culture, especially its royal aspects.