In Vietnam, spring is unmistakably the season of festivals.
On the fourth day of the first lunar month (January 26), the Dong Ky cannon procession festival opened in the northern province of Bac Ninh with the number of people taking photographs exceeding the number of local attendants.
The Huong Pagoda Festival in Hanoi did not start until the fifth day of the first lunar month, but tens of thousands of people began gathering at the spot since 11 p.m. the day before. It was suffocating to see 150,000 people crowding into the famous pagoda on the first day of the festival.
According to statistics compiled by the Department of Culture and Information, every year, 7,342 festivals take place across the country. As Vietnam is an agricultural country, 90 percent of the festivals originated in villages and were held to pray for good weather and good harvests, and to pay homage to people who were community benefactors in various ways. Therefore, most of the festivals were limited to a village or a group of adjacent villages sharing the same customs.
Noisy crowds where people elbow together and show off huge offerings are anathema to the spirit of the original Vietnamese festivals. Trays full of beer, wine, pork and chickens on Buddha altars, and currency notes scattered all over temples which people offer to deities in exchange for personal gains are totally in conflict with the spiritual and physical purity that praying practices demand.
However, the practice of distorting the nation's venerable festivals continues unabated.
Dr. Le Thi Minh Ly, who studies intangible culture and used to serve as a cultural official, said she was once mesmerized by the way parishioners rode their bicycles in an orderly, solemn manner to a church in the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum. After that, they left the church in the same manner, peacefully.
This is because the people knew what they were doing and had trust in their actions, Ly said.
She said she was also amazed by the way locals in the southern province of Kien Giang voluntarily contributed to the organization of a festival on the death anniversary of Nguyen Trung Truc, who led a campaign against the French domination in southern Vietnam in the late 19th century.
The festival's atmosphere of peace, orderliness and happiness originated from locals' respect toward the national hero.
Without respect and genuine piety, festivals lose their sanctity. Instead, the crowding, jostling, slavish offering and calculating prayers turn festivals into fearful events devoid of real joy and peace.