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Once energetic, post-Tet festivals in Vietnam shrink because of COVID-19

Wednesday, February 24, 2021, 17:10 GMT+7
Once energetic, post-Tet festivals in Vietnam shrink because of COVID-19
Visitors walk at the 2021 spring festival at Phu Day Temple in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Pham Tuan / Tuoi Tre

The post-Lunar New Year season in Vietnam is usually filled with scores of festivals but the re-emergence of COVID-19 before the public holiday has dampened the festive mood. 

The majority of traditional festivals have been canceled, while ones that are still being held are seeing fewer visitors than ever.

Starting on the sixth day of the Lunar New Year (Tet) festival, which ended last week, and held over three months, the spring festival at the Huong Pagoda in Hanoi’s My Duc District is one of the most famous celebrations in northern Vietnam. It attracts thousands of pilgrims each year.

However, as the spread of COVID-19 in Hanoi remains unpredictable, My Duc District has set up nine control posts at entrances to the pagoda, which will send back visitors to prevent large crowds on the premises.

The festival usually welcomes as many as 80,000 visitors on its first day, according to the management board of the Huong Pagoda.

This year, most of the activities were greatly diminished. For example, the famous boat tour that shuttles visitors down the Yen River to the Huong Pagoda only used two percent of its fleet, while as many as 4,000 boats were mobilized at full capacity to run the tour last year.

On February 13, Dang Van Canh, chairman of the My Duc People’s Committee, announced that all opening ceremonies and visitor services, including the boat tour, were canceled for this year’s festival at the pagoda. 

Hanoi’s outlying Dong Anh District also declared the cancelation of the Co Loa Festival, Sai Temple Festival, and other fests.

Meanwhile, Tam Chuc Pagoda in northern Ha Nam Province is still holding its annual spring festival, despite having to uphold strict COVID-19 prevention measures.

As witnessed by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper correspondents, the Tam Chuc complex was unusually vacant during the festival, while safety measures were duly maintained.

However, passengers filled up shuttle cars with no safe distancing kept, while food stalls still welcomed large groups of visitors. Many shop owners and pilgrims were not wearing face masks while talking to one another.

Nguyen Thu Ha, representative of the Tam Chuc Pagoda, declared the management board’s commitment to prevent COVID-19 spread at the premise.

“Since the COVID-19 outbreak transpired, we have collected medical declarations of visitors and sent back 130 people of high transmission risk each day,” she stated.

Visitors are seen worshipping at the 2021 spring festival at Phu Day Temple in Nam Dinh Province. Photo: Pham Tuan / Tuoi Tre

Visitors are seen praying at the 2021 spring festival at Phu Day Temple in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Pham Tuan / Tuoi Tre

Vacant markets, busy temples

Vieng Market, which only opens once a year in Vu Ban District of Nam Dinh Province, was halted this year for fear of COVID-19 contagion.

It was supposed to start in the late hours of the seventh day of the Lunar New Year, or February 18 this year, and last until the next day.

In previous years, the market welcomed around 250,000 to 300,000 visitors for its peculiar activities of 'selling bad luck' and 'buying good luck.'

According to local residents, sellers and visitors arrived at the market a few days earlier, only to find out that the event had been scrapped.

In contrast, droves of visitors were seen heading to Tien Huong Temple, a part of the Phu Day heritage cluster located only one kilometer away from the Vieng Market.

Tuoi Tre reporters noted that body temperature checks were not required at the gates of the heritage cluster and many visitors did not don face masks.

“We welcomed a large number of visitors from other provinces in previous years, but people from Nam Dinh Province make up the majority this year. Visitors are also much scarcer,” said Tran Thi Kim Hue, member of the Phu Day heritage cluster’s management board, told the newspaper.

A visitor undergoes a body temperature check before entering Tam Chuc Pagoda in Ha Nam Province. Photo: Pham Tuan / Tuoi Tre

A visitor undergoes a body temperature check before entering the Tam Chuc Pagoda in Ha Nam Province, Vietnam. Photo: Pham Tuan / Tuoi Tre

Cyber worship

The post-Tet prayer ceremony at the Phuc Khanh Pagoda in Hanoi’s Dong Da District usually welcomes a host of visitors causing massive traffic delays, but this year it has been changed to an online event to be held on February 25.

The event will be broadcast live on the pagoda’s official Facebook Page and YouTube channel.

Meanwhile, the annual festival at Tran Temple in Nam Dinh Province, which also draws in scores of visitors each year, had to cease its packed opening ceremony to avoid transmission.

“The opening of the royal seal is an essential act to honor our heroic predecessors, but the ceremony had to be put on hold this year. The ceremony will be maintained, albeit with limited attendance,” said Tran Huy Chien, representative of the Tran Temple heritage site.

The ceremony will be closed to the public, with only 35 members of the Tran Temple management board to be allowed inside, Chien added.

Visitors are seen at Tu Hieu Pagoda in Thua Thien-Hue province. Photo: Minh An / Tuoi Tre

Visitors are seen at the Tu Hieu Pagoda in Thua Thien-Hue Province, Vietnam. Photo: Minh An / Tuoi Tre

Altered habits

Pham Thu Hien, a frequent visitor of traditional festivals who lives in Nam Dinh Province, said her family’s habit of visiting pagodas after the Lunar New Year holiday has been totally upended this year.

“My parents used to bring our family to a variety of fests in the province. However, they decided to stop going this year for safety reasons,” Hien said.

“Instead, we just watch streams of spiritual activities on the Internet, as well as offering incense sticks and worshipping at home.”

Others will find ways to carry on with their habit.

Several pilgrims were seen ignoring the closure signs of the Huong Pagoda to enter the place illegally.

In Hai Duong Province, the current COVID-19 epicenter of Vietnam, a local resident was seen heading to the Ba Chua Kho Temple in nearby Bac Ninh Province on February 13, despite the fact that the place’s shutdown for COVID-19 prevention was announced earlier.

“I don’t do any business, but going to this temple has become my spiritual habit to keep my family safe and sound," Diem, the woman in question, said.

"So I decided to return this year and worship from outside the gate.”

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