Archive for January, 2011

Ong Cong, Ong Tao – Vietnam’s Day of the Kitchen Gods

January 19, 2011 Leave a comment


‘Tao Quan’, ‘Ong Cong’ and ‘Ong Tao’, in Vietnamese belief, originated from the 3 Gods of the land (Tho Cong, Tho Dia and Tho Ky). from Taoism in China. When coming to Vietnam, the legend became the story of “2 Husbands and 1 wife” – the God of Land, God of House and God of Kitchen. However, people still call them “Tao Quan” or “Ong Tao”, because of a TRILOGY theory which is very popular in Eastern Belief and religion. The kitchen of a house where there is fire and both are based on earth or soil for building of the house.

Kitchen god rides carp fish

In Vietnam, the story of Ong Cong, Ong Tao has been told through the generations, and then later it was written down so there are many different variations. But the main story for Vietnam is as follows:


Mr. Trong Cao had been married to Mrs Thi Nhan for a long time but they didn’t have any children. Then used to get upset and quarrels were often seen in their family.

In one of their arguments, Trong Cao, got really angry and beat his wife, Thi Nhan who left the home and later married another man named Pham Lang.

When Trong Cao realised he was wrong, he went out to look for his wife. He then spent all his money looking but couldn’t find her. Trong Cao became a beggar because he had spent all of his money.

One day, Trong Cao arrived at Thi Nhan’s house to beg, and they recognized each other. Thi Nhan felt sorry and regretted she had remarried to Pham Lang. Suddenly, Pham Lang came home and Thi Nhan found it hard to explain the situation., Thi Nhan asked Trong Cao to hide in the haystack out in the garden.

Back home, Pham Lang went in to the garden and burned the haystack to make fertilizer without noticing that Trong Cao was hiding there. Trong Cao didn’t dare to come out and was burned to death. Thi Nhan realised that Trong Cao was burning alive and jumped into the fire to die with him.

Pham Lang didn’t know what had happened, but he saw his wife had died and he followed her into the fire.

Their souls went to heaven and met the Jade Emperor. Jade Emperor understood their situation. Then entitled them to be known as, “Tao Quan”, which meant, ‘taking care of 3 different matters in the lives of people’s homes.’

–         Pham Lang: was titled “Tho Cong”, taking care of Kitchens workings

–         Trong Cao: was titled “Tho Dia”, Taking care of house workings

–         Thi Nhan: was titled “Tho Ky”, taking care of food supply and shopping.



Vietnamese people consider the 3 Gods watch and evaluate the good and bad things people have done, and they decide the prosperity of a family. Therefore, an altar to worship them is a must.

Paper offerings

An altar for them is set near kitchen. Every year, on 23rd day of 12th month in Lunar Year calendar (in 2011, it is the January 26 on the western calendar); these Gods go for a meeting in heaven and report what people had done in the past year. Vietnamese people celebrate on this day. In the ceremony, the offering include a carp ship which is their transport, and 3 sets of traditional official paper dress hats, long dresses and shoes but no pants. This is because in the fire, their pants were burnt off.

Many Vietnamese families will buy 3 live fish, 1 female and 2 male, and release them into a river or pond and also burn paper clothes and money on the day.



Vietnamese Mother’s day

January 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Vu Lan – Ullambana or Mother’s day

Vu Lan in Vietnamese is one of the main Buddhism festivals to show your gratitude to your mother. It is on 15th day of 7th month in Lunar Calendar.


The Buddhist origins of the festival can be traced back to a story that originally came from India, but later took on culturally Chinese overtones. In the Ullambana Sutra, there is a descriptive account of a Buddhist monk named Maudgalyāyana, originally a brahmin youth who later ordained, and later becoming one of the Buddha’s chief disciples. Mahāmaudgalyāyana was also known for having clairvoyant powers, an uncommon trait amongst monks.

After he attained archonship, he began to think deeply of his parents, and wondered what happened to them. He used his clairvoyance abilities to see where they were reborn and found his father in the heavenly realms i.e. the realm of the gods. However, his mother had been reborn in a lower realm, known as the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. His mother took on the form of a hungry ghost (preta) – so called because it could not eat due to its highly thin & fragile throat in which no food could pass through, yet it was always hungry and it had a fat belly. His mother had been greedy with the money he’d left to her. He had instructed her to kindly host any Buddhist monks that ever came her way, but instead she withheld her kindness and her money. It was for this reason she was reborn in the realm of hungry ghosts.

Maudgalyāyana eased his mother’s suffering by receiving the instructions from feeding pretas and from the Buddha. The Buddha instructed Maudgalyāyana to place pieces of food on a clean plate, reciting a mantra seven times to bless the food, snap his fingers to call out to the deceased and finally tip the food onto clean ground. By doing so, the preta’s hunger would be relieved. Through these merits, his mother was able to be reborn. Buddha also tells people that they can perform the same kindness to show gratitude to their mothers.

Main activities:

For Buddhism followers, they will have a shower (so they will be clean for the ceremony) then go to a Pagoda to perform a spiritual ceremony. They worship their mother (if she has passed away) or ask the gods to give good health and happiness to their mother if she is still living. People, whose mothers have already died, will hang a white rose on their shirt and have a meal in pagoda (vegetarian) or at home honoring their deceased mother.



Death Ceremony

January 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Death anniversary

The death anniversary is a ceremony to commemorate a dead person in Vietnamese culture. It is held on the date of death according to the Lunar Calendar every year. It also reminds youngsters of their ancestors and to strengthen relationships between members of a family or of an occupational group.


The celebration of the death anniversary is an important day for Vietnamese people. It expresses faithfulness and compassion of living people towards dead people and to show filial respect to their ancestors. If you are wealthy, you can prepare a big party and invite your relatives and friends. If you are poor, a bowl of rice with salt, a boiled egg, incense and some simple foods are good enough. Your sincerity is not measured by how big a ceremony is. If you are a friend or relative of a dead person, you just go to death anniversary celebration without being invited.

Main activities:

Preparation will depend on a family’s financial status. Big parties will take longer while simple ones are easier to prepare. Nowadays, they will make, at least, a table of six. They will put all the food on a big tray and lay it down in front of an altar which has a picture of the dead person on it. Included on that tray, they put paper money (fake money that Vietnamese burn to send to dead people to help them buy things in the other life, a kind of quick Western Union money transfer) and rice wine. The dead persons name is written on the fake money and, when it is burnt, goes to a special depository for the deceased to pick up to use in the next life. The family also burns other paper and cardboard images of things they can use in the next life like cars, houses, horses and once a family member burnt a Boeing jet while his neighbor, not to be outdone, burnt a spaceship.  The head of family will dress respectably; burn 3 incense sticks and make a prayer which shows his respect to the ancestor. (I use his as the head of family as it is always a man. If they don’t have a son then the eldest son in law will be in charge). They wait until the incense sticks burn up then they will burn the paper money and other paper or cardboard items. The paper money will be sent directly to the dead person so he or she can use it to make their way home.

After the ceremony, family members will eat the food that they offered in the ceremony. They eat and drink and talk to each other happily. After eating, the family will divide fruit and candy into small bags and give one to everybody who came to the ceremony.

Extra information:

– If for some reason they can’t hold the death anniversary on the date that their ancestor passed away, they have to pray on that day and explain why they cannot and ask for permission to move it to another date.

– The cost of the ceremony will be divided between all male members of the family, female members; including the son-in-law, can also put in money if they want to.

– The 1st anniversary will be as big as the funeral ceremony and they will invite a lot of relatives and friends to attend. Friends of the dead person will bring incense, paper money and some times an envelope with real money inside to help the family to cover the costs.

– In big cities, sometimes they don’t know all their in-laws but, in the country, as they live nearby each other, ceremonies like this are a chance to get to know new members of the family and catch up with people not seen for a while.

– In some cases, the death ceremony may be held on the date of the normal calendar, not the lunar calendar, if the family is of the Catholic religion.