Spring Festivals on the Mekong
Strong family values are woven into every fiber of life in the Mekong River region – with special emphasis on paying homage to the ancestors and founders that paved the way for progress – all while preserving important traditions for generations to come. During the springtime, as the harvest season comes to a close, a variety of festivals and celebrations bring ancestral ties to the forefront. Here’s a sampling of what’s happening during the spring season in Vietnam and Cambodia (dates vary and are based on the lunar calendar):
Tet Han Thuc (late March to early April)
Tet Han Thuc, also referred to as the Cold Food Festival, centers around the gathering of families in remembrance of their ancestors. On the day of the festival, families come home to make bánh trôi and bánh chay – two traditional rice-based dishes – together. The food is placed on a tray and offered to the ancestors, who are invited to join the meal with the ceremonial burning of incense.
Hung Kings Festival (late March to early April)
This celebration is held each year over a three-day period, and the main festival day is also a public holiday in Vietnam. During the festival, the Vietnamese pay tribute to the traditional founders and first emperors of the nation, known as the Hung Kings. A procession stops at every small temple on the way to the High Temple, where prayers and incense are offered to the ancestors.
Buddha’s Birthday (late April)
All over the country, devotees gather to celebrate, listen to Buddhist scriptures, and perform religious rites on the day recognized as Buddha’s birthday. Cities like Hoi An incorporate prayer sessions and street parades into the celebratory events of the day. Many temples are lavishly decorated, with locals bringing traditional Vietnamese dishes, fruits, and flowers as offerings to the monks.
Khmer New Year (mid-April)
Cambodians with Khmer roots take three days off from work to celebrate the end of the traditional harvest season. This is the time of year when farmers enjoy some leisure time after toiling on their land all year. Family members gather to perform purification ceremonies on statues of Lord Buddha and play traditional games like Teang Prot – a male versus female tug-of-war – and Bos Angkunh, which features the nuts of the angkuhn tree as the main game pieces.
Vesak Bochea (early to mid-May)
Also known as Buddha Day, this is one of the most important ceremonies for Buddhists around the world. This day celebrates the three major events in Buddha’s life – birth, enlightenment, and passing into nirvana. Cambodian Buddhists donate food and clothing to the local monks in the area on this day of gratitude and prayer, with added focus on bringing happiness to the less fortunate.