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At Tết Nguyên Tiêu, a Celebration of the Lunar Year's First Full Moon

Last Saturday, on the first full moon of the first lunar month, members of Saigon’s ethnic Chinese community celebrated Tet Nguyen Tieu, or the Lantern Festival.

Originally from China, there are several stories explaining how Tet Nguyen Tieu got its start. In one tale, a swan flew down from heaven, soaring above the Earth, and was killed by a hunter. The Jade Emperor, king of heaven, was so infuriated by the killing of his swan that he ordered an army down to earth to burn everything to the ground as punishment. But not all of the emperor’s soldiers agreed; some managed to sneak down to earth and warn the people, telling them to hang red lanterns outside their homes on this day so that, from heaven, the earth would appear to be burning. Evidently, the tradition stuck.

Another version tells the story of Nguyen Tieu, a young girl who lived in Emperor Han Vu De’s Forbidden Palace. Desperately homesick and unable to visit her parents, Tieu attempted suicide by jumping into a well. The young woman was saved by Dongfang Shuo, a member of the emperor’s court, who was so touched by her plight that he promised to help her see her family. Shuo somehow convinced the emperor that the king of heaven had threatened to burn down the entire citadel on the 16th day of the first lunar month. Fearful of heaven’s wrath, the emperor ordered his people to put lanterns outside their homes the day before, and everyone was so distracted by the spectacle no one saw Tieu sneak out to see her mother and father.

Today, many Vietnamese believe that the first full moon of the new year is an important time both to pray for peace in their own lives and to worship one’s ancestors, as well as heaven and earth.

Take a look at Saigon’s Tet Nguyen Tieu festivities below:

A father and son enjoy the Tet Nguyen Tieu festivities in Saigon’s Cho Lon neighborhood.

A woman lights incense while praying at Tam Son Pagoda.

A young man dresses a statue of Quan Am at On Lang Pagoda.

A crowd of people gather to pray in District 5’s On Lang Pagoda during Tet Nguyen Tieu.

Visitors buy incense from the pagoda’s supply shop.

Members of the Quan Nghia Duong lion dance troupe perform in District 5’s Tet Nguyen Tieu festivities.

A lion head tattoo on the neck of Huynh Dieu An, a member of the Quan Nghia Duong lion dance troupe.

A woman prays at Tam Son Pagoda.

Patrons young and old wait for the crowds to disperse inside the pagoda.

A performer from the Thong Nhat Opera troupe prepares backstage at Ong Bon Pagoda.

Performers from the Thong Nhat Opera troupe apply makeup backstage at Ong Bon Pagoda.

Performers from the Thong Nhat Opera troupe apply makeup backstage at Ong Bon Pagoda.

The festivities at Nghia An Hoi Quan, Cho Lon’s Chaozhou Congregation Hall, go on into the evening.

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