Why Vietnamese wear red and white roses this month

By Thuy Vi, Thanh Nien News

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People come to Vietnamese temples this month to honor their parents. Photo credit: VnExpress People come to Vietnamese temples this month to honor their parents. Photo credit: VnExpress


Buddhist temples across Vietnam were crowded the past weekend as many people gathered to hear talks about parental love.
Many wore roses on their shirts: red roses for those whose mothers are alive and white roses for those whose mothers have passed.
The practice is a main part of the celebrations of Vu Lan, or Ullambana, a Buddhist festival in the seventh lunar month that is known as the season of filial piety.
During the festival, children try to do good to bring blessings to their parents, either alive or deceased.
The festival peaks on the full moon day of the lunar month, which falls on August 28 this year.
Buddhist followers traditionally believe that when they come together to pray for their departed parents, they can atone for their parents' past mistakes and save them from being punished in the underworld.
The practice of wearing roses only became popular in Vietnam around 50 years ago after Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, whose mother had passed, wrote an essay to praise mothers in Saigon in 1962 with inspiration in his previous visit to Japan where he was given a white carnation by a Japanese student.
Here's one of the most powerful paragraphs in the essay:
"I was as much an orphan as any other unhappy orphan; we could no longer proudly wear red flowers in our buttonholes. Those who wear white flowers suffer, and their thoughts cannot avoid returning to their mothers. They cannot forget that she is no longer there. Those who wear red flowers are so happy, knowing their mothers are still alive. They can try to please her before she is gone and it is too late."
Vietnamese songwriter Pham The My (1930-2009) in 1965-1966 penned a song, which is often played this time of the year, based on Hanh's writing.
The lyrics read: “One red rose for anyone who still has a mother, so you can feel happy.”
But wearing a red rose does not always bring joy.
“I wish my grandson could have my red rose,” said an old man at a pagoda in southern Vietnam, who tried to hold back his tears when recalling how his daughter, mother of the boy, died in a road crash.
The roses and the whole Vu Lan festival have religious values, but they are also symbols of the big love of many Vietnamese for their parents and families. That's why even non-religious or followers of other religions can join the celebration.
These days, instead of going to a pagoda, many people stay at home and pay tribute to their parents on social networks.
Some would change their profile picture on Facebook to a white rose, or send a beautiful white rose to another friend to show empathy.
Several would post photos of them with their late mothers. “It’s Vu Lan, and I miss you,” one caption read.

 Hundreds of lanterns are lit up during a Vu Lan ceremony at a pagoda in Ha Nam Province in northern Vietnam on August 22, 2015. Photo credit: VnEpxress
Many children come to the pagoda with their parents and grandparents. Photo credit: VnExpress
Nguyen Thi Phuong, 36, wears a red rose as she pins another rose on the shirt of her 9-year-old son. The woman from Hanoi said her family has joined the festival for three years now. “It feels emotional every time.” Photo credit: VnExpress

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