You might know that the origin of porcelain and pottery dates from 20,000 years ago in China, and the word Chinais, indeed, used to regard such clay and porcelain items. However, the ancient Vietnamese had also developed a great industry of pottery as soon as it appeared. Hence, the development of pottery reflects both historical and aesthetic aspects of Vietnamese culture.
In this article, let’s track the traces of shaping clay from the earliest to the latest changes to have an overall look at the Vietnamese pottery culture.
Vietnamese pottery began in the Hòa Bình- Bắc Sơn culture and was known as the Neolithic/ Stone Age era. The first traces of pottery found in the Viet territory age 6,000 to 7,000 years old.
Later on, the Bronze and Iron Ages ( 2000 B.C – I century) had given birth to many cultures such as Phùng Nguyên, Gò Mun, Đồng Nai, etc. In those periods, the pottery industry had evolved and expanded widely over the region so-called as ‘Vietnam’.
The Chinese domination period (I-X century)
For over 1000 years, the Chinese culture had spread its enormous influence on the southern land (Vietnam.) The pottery industry in this period inherited the original methods and also adapted some Chinese techniques such as ceramic glazing, making pottery by the ceramic turntable or in molds, and so on.
* The Lý – Trần dynasties (XI – XIV century) – the independence period.
During 4 centuries, under 2 dynasties: Lý (XI-XII century) and Trần (XIII-XIV century), the pottery culture developed independently from Chinese culture, which opened the culture rehabilitation stage for Đại Việt (Vietnam). Ceramic products in this period had reached perfection in shape, decoration and colouring. They represented the quintessence of the arts in ceramic, especially items from the Hoa Nâu Lý Trần collection.
*The Lê dynasty ( XV-XVI) – the era of exporting Vietnamese ceramics.
In the XV century, the Lê dynasty boomed in prosperity. During this era, the pottery industry organised in good order with the establishment of several pottery trade villages. Ceramic products from Bát Tràng, Thổ Hà and Phù Lãnh trade villages expanded their markets to foreign countries. There were official records of mass trading pottery to Japan and some south-east Asian countries. Within the years 1596-1873, Japanese potters had adapted Vietnamese ceramic technique and called it Kotchi (Giao chỉ) ( La ceramique Japonaise – Oneda Tokomosouke).
* The Nguyễn dynasty (XVI-XVIII century) – the Blue era of ceramics.
There wasn’t any innovation in the pottery industry in this period. The only remarkable collection was “Bleu de Huế” (Blue of Huế), containing sophisticated blue-white patterned porcelains which belonged to the royal Nguyễn family. These products were marked with Chinese characters: Nội phủ thị (Vietnamese transcription, meaning for internal (royal) use). Sadly, the products weren’t authentic Vietnamese pottery. They were indeed exclusively ordered from China for the royal Nguyễn. The pottery industry suffered in blues as it failed to make a change.
In the modern times:
In the modern times, Vietnamese pottery is competing with other strong competitors such as Taiwanese, Japanese and Chinese pottery in the market. The hidden cards of Vietnamese pottery to succeeding in such a competitive environment lie in the rusticity, simplicity, yet, elegance and more importantly, durability in every product. Some famous Vietnamese ceramic brand names are Bát Tràng, Minh Long, Đông Triều, etc. are working their best to provide products to meet the domestic as well as international demands.
Over the centuries, the Vietnamese pottery culture has been through peaks and bottoms. From the sophisticated minds and hands of our potters, many legacies had been made and kept with our utmost respect. We take pride in the culture that the ancestors had gifted to us, and with much appreciation, we wish to develop Vietnamese ceramics more well-known to the world.
Tết Nguyên Đán or Tết Holiday has a very special position in the hearts of every Vietnamese no matter where they are. As the most important holiday in Vietnamese culture, it is held on the first days of the year in Lunar calendar, usually falling into February in solar calendar. Although Tết is traditionally a 3-day celebration, it actually involves preparations in the week(s) prior. Starting from Tết Táo Quân/Tết Ông Công – Ông Táo or Kitchen God Worship Day (December 23rd of the Lunar Calendar,) the atmosphere becomes festive and jolly when everyone rushes to prepare for the ritual and Tết.
It is of an important matter for Vietnamese people to clean their houses every Tết holiday. The act of cleaning and tidying the house at the beginning of the New Year is a mark point for a fresh start. We clean our houses to exorcise the evil spirits out of our doors and also to welcome good blessings to the whole family.
1-2/Buy new clothes
Buying new clothes as gifts for the youngsters of the household is one of many beautiful acts to celebrate the start of New Year. As Vietnamese people in the past used to endure starvation and poverty, the children were not given enough clothes to wear throughout the year. Almost the only chance for them to have new clothes is the occasion of Tết, when their parents spend most of the savings for the family to have the best New Year celebration, which includes the buying of clothes for their lovely children.
One of the most common act of celebrating is of course eating. And in order to eat, we need food. The preparation usually starts very early before the arrival of Tết, so that during Tết, we do not need to cook much. Another reason for this early preparation is that during the first three days of Tết, the market is usually closed.
Depending on each region and also each household, there are some traditional Tết food that should be prepared in advance. Here are some references for you.
Many customs and traditions are practiced by Vietnamese people to celebrate a new year on its first three days. We usually go back to our homeland, visit our ancestors’ grave and pray at the pagodas to receive good fortune and blessings. Besides, we visit our relatives, teachers, friends to dine and have fun with them, while children receive lucky money. This is the perfect opportunity for reunions and gatherings, because only at this time, most people have free time to spend with their beloved ones talking and sharing their lives to make up for the time of separation.
Because of increasing demands, many means of public transportation like planes, trains, long-route buses, etc. offer tickets with doubled or even tripled price compared to that of ordinary days. Therefore, those who want to celebrate Tết at their homelands must book tickets several months in advance.
3/Typical New Year Food
Bánh chưng (Chưng cake)
Bánh chưng is the most common food eaten during Tết. Originated from the North of Vietnam, this dish has many times proved to be more than just a piece of cuisine. Bánh chưng is a national representative, a part of tradition that all of us inherited from our ancestors from the distant past.
Bánh tét (Tét cake)
As paralleled to bánh chưng in the north, bánh tét is in the south. This the representative of the south, sweeter and more like a dessert. This dish can convert the truism in the souls of the makers of it, as well as of all the Vietnamese in the south of Vietnam.
Nem chua (Fermented pork roll)
Nem chua is not only famous in the center of Vietnam, but throughout the nation. People from everyone area of the country enjoy nem chua, for its sour but sweet taste that none other dishes has to offer.
For further information about the three special dishes of Vietnam, please refer to these articles:
During any Tết activity, food is served to increase the enjoyment of each event. Here are some popular types of food specialised for this particular purpose:
4-1/Mứt (Candied fruit)
Candied fruit, also known as crystallized fruit or glacé fruit, has existed since the 14th century. Whole fruit, smaller pieces of fruit, or pieces of peel, are placed in heated sugar syrup, which absorbs the moisture from within the fruit and eventually preserves it. Depending on size and type of fruit, this process of preservation can take from several days to several months. This process allows the fruit to retain its quality for a year.
In Vietnam, mứt is most loved by children, especially during Tết. It’s healthy, natural and tastes amazing. Lots of adults still enjoy it too. The most popular fruit being candied is coconut, ginger, etc.
4-2/Khô (dried food)
Khô mực (Dried shredded squid): a dried, shredded, seasoned, seafood product, made from squid or cuttlefish, commonly found in coastal Asian countries, Russia, and Hawaii. The snack is also referred to as dried shredded cuttlefish.
Khô bò (Beef jerky): a type of jerky, a lean meat that has been trimmed of fat, cut into strips, and then dried to prevent spoilage. The resulting jerky from the above methods would be a salty and/or savory snack. However, sometimes a sweet or semi-sweet recipe is used, with sugar being a major ingredient in that variation. Jerky is ready-to-eat and needs no additional preparation. It can be stored for months without refrigeration.
4-3/Hạt khô (Dried seeds)
The seeds are usually cleaned, heated and then roasted for eating purpose. There are many types of seed which can be eaten, for example dried roasted watermelon seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds,… We Vietnamese love to crack the seeds and eat them, just for fun.
5/New Year Games
As Tết is also a holiday and a festival, many traditional games are carried out during this occasion. The games are not only for children, but also for the adults to reminisce back into their childhood.
Tết is usually initiated in February, which is the season of winter in spring, but still the weather is still chilly in the North of Vietnam. Therefore, in the years with warm weather, some rural areas hold the game of catching ducks in the pond. People choose a deep pond, or a pond with high shore, or use a grid or bamboo stick to strap around the pond. The number of players varies on the width of the pond, usually from two to four players maximum. Two large ducks will be dropped down into the pond with for the players to try to catch. The players of this game are not blindfolded but are required to have good agility and swimming techniques.
This game usually takes place on a large grass field. The players is divided into pairs. Each pair will take turn to join the field. One person of each pair will be blindfolded, and have to catch the other person without getting out of the drawn circle. The person who acts as the goat must sometimes makes noise so that the blindfolded person can know where they are. This game is only for fun, and usually it’s the children who enjoy playing it the most.
Wrestling is a beautiful performance of Vietnamese people’s martial arts spirit. The game is an opportunity for the strong wrestlers of the villages to compete with each other to find the winner of the championship. This is the chance for people to show off their strength and also to strengthen the bonds between villagers and villages.
Đánh bài (Card games)
Tếtis the season of gambling. For new year’s luck, people are more willing to bet their money on something that they usually don’t. Sometimes we just play cards for fun, with only a small amount of money between the family and relatives, for the sake of the long lasting tradition of the nation.
Tiến lên(literally: “go forward”): also known as Vietnamese cards, Thirteen, Killer 13, “‘Bomb”‘, is a Vietnamese shedding-type card game devised in Southern China and Vietnam. It is similar to Zheng Shangyou, which uses a specially printed deck of cards, Big Two, and other “climbing” card games popular in many parts of Asia. Tiến lên, considered the national card game of Vietnam, is a game intended and best for four players.
Bài cào: This is one of the simplest, quickest, and most dependent on the element of chance. This game played with two or more people, the number of people is unlimited but it must be made sure each person has three cards.
Bài tấn (Durak): a card game that is popular in post-Soviet states. The object of the game is to get rid of all one’s cards. At the end of the game, the last player with cards in their hand is the durak. Co-op is not allowed in durak. This game is popular in Vietnam.
Phỏm or Tá lả: A Vietnamese card games, with 2-4 players.
Xì dách (Chinese Blackjack): Traditionally, most non-hardcore gamblers will play some form of gambling during the Chinese New Year as it is believed the new year brings in fresh new luck, and Chinese Blackjack is one of the most popular games to be played during the new year.
Xì tố (Poker)
Bầu Cua Tôm Cá (Gourd – Crab – Shrimp – Fish)
The game Bầu Cua Tôm Cá is a Vietnamese gambling game using three dice.The six sides of the dice, instead of showing one to six pips, have pictures of a fish, a prawn, a crab, a rooster, a calabash gourd, and a stag. Players place wagers on a board that has the six pictures, betting on which pictures will appear. If one die corresponds with a bet, the bettor receives the same amount as their bet. If two dice correspond with a bet, the bettor receives two times their money. If three dice correspond with a bet, the bettor receives three times their money. For instance, if one were to place $3 on fish, and the dealer rolls 2 fish and 1 stag, then the bettor would receive $6. Bầu Cua Tôm Cá is essentially the Vietnamese variation of Hoo Hey How (Fish-Prawn-Crab) played in China, the dice game Crown and Anchor played by British sailors, or chuck-a-luck played in America.
We usually play this game during Tết, for fun.
These are a few of many customs and traditions practiced during Vietnamese Tết Holiday, as we are celebrating the New Year and also the cultural beauty of our country. If you want to know more about this special event, you can look through our other articles discussing Tết. Happy New Year.
If you have any questions about this article or are in need for assistance about travelling in Vietnam or just anything at all, please do not hesitate to contact us, and we are sure to be thrilled to help.
Tết Nguyên Đán orTết Holiday is undoubtedly the most important and biggest festival of Vietnam. It would be a good luck if you are living in Vietnam on these days when Tết Holiday has been approaching to every corner of the streets.
1/What is TếtNguyên Đán?
Tết Nguyên Đán has a very special position in the hearts of every Vietnamese no matter where they are, in their homelands or overseas. As the most important holiday in Vietnamese culture, it is held on the first days of the year in Lunar calendar, usually falling into February in solar calendar. Although Tết is traditionally a 3-day celebration, it actually involves preparations in the week(s) prior. Houses are cleaned, decorated, or even repainted; new clothes are bought; debts are paid off; and disputes are sorted out. Starting from Tết Táo Quân/Tết Ông Công – Ông Táo or Kitchen God Worship Day (December 23rd of the Lunar Calendar,) the atmosphere becomes festive and jolly when everyone rushes to prepare for the ritual and Tết.
2/The Origin of The Name Tết Nguyên Đán:
Vietnam culture is a part of rice agriculture civilisation which divides a year into 24 different parts called ‘Tiết’ (Jie in Chinese). There is a transition time between them, in which the most important part is the start of a new cultivation cycle which is chosen to mark the starting point for a new year or so-called Lunar New Year.
The name Tết Nguyên Đán is a Sino-Vietnamese, derived from the Hán nôm characters 節元旦, which literally means the First Morning of the Year.
節(jié) means festival or season.
元(yuán) means the beginning, initial, marking the arrival of spring.
旦(dàn) means daybreak, dawn, morning (the character itself indicates that the sun (日) has just peeked out from the horizon (__).
Tết is also an occasion for pilgrims and family reunions, which is why many people prefer to call it Tết Đoàn Viên (Reunion Festival). Everyone looks forward to coming back home before Tết to reunite and celebrate Tết together with their beloved families.
3/The Meaning of Tết Nguyên Đán in a Vietnamese’ life:
Vietnamese people celebrate the New Year with a sacred trust: Lunar New Year is the days of reunion, hope, and luck. After a busy year of working or studying, Tết Nguyên Đán is the time for people to visit their relatives and friends. Besides, Tết is also a time for the lost souls back to their families to celebrate Tết Holiday. On the last day of the year, all the families hold the ceremony to invite ancestors to come back home and enjoy the holiday. It reflects the tradition of Vietnamese people “When you eat a fruit, think of the man who planted the tree.” (Uống nước nhớ nguồn)
Moreover, Tết Nguyên Đán is the day of hope, because on that day, all people pray and wish for a year of good weather and bumper harvests. Tết Holiday is also the day of luck because all people think that what happening in Tết Holiday has a special connection to the remaining time of the year. Therefore, on Tết Holiday, people always do good things, give good utterances especially such utterances as wishes of good health, good luck and wealthy. And really be careful in their behaviours and acts.
Hung Kings Temple Festival (Giỗ tổ Hùng Vương) is one of the most important national holidays in Vietnam to commemorate Hung Kings who had built the country at its early stage. The festival strengthens the importance of a long-standing philosophy in Vietnamese culture: “Uống nước nhớ nguồn” (When you eat a fruit, think of the man who planted the tree).