[Gui Thiep Chuc Tet][Sequence of Tet Celebration] [Make Dragon][Viet zodiac]
[Thu Van Dau Xuan ][Cay Neu]
[Tết Sanfransico]

Cay Neu Ngay Tet

 

In Vietnam, the first day of the Lunar New Year is called Tet. On the days before Tet, people plant an extremely tall bamboo tree in front of their homes. Bows, arrows, bells and gongs are hung on the treetop with the hope that all the bad luck of the past year will be chased away and everyone will have a happy New Year. The tree is called neu and the story is legend.

Once upon a time, the devil ruled the earth. Everybody worked for him from early morning until midnight. A very greedy creature, the devil seized everything made by men for himself. People worked hard all year round but had almost nothing to eat. All the fruits of their labor went into the devil's warehouses.

One year, there was a very big crop. Rice fields stretched out like golden carpets and the devil was so dazzled, he aimed to take everything and imposed a new rule "the root of the rice plant belongs to the farmers, the rest belongs to the devil." At the end of the harvest, the rice went to the devil. The people had nothing left except clusters of roots.

The suffering of the people came to Buddha's notice. He descended to earth and told them to grow sweet potatoes for the next crop. Following Buddha's advice, the farmers grew sweet potatoes with full hopes of an abundant crop. When harvest came, following the rule, the peasants took the potato root and left the rest for the devil.

Knowing that he had been fooled, the devil gave a new order: " From the next crop onward, both roots and grown plants will belong to the devil, and the rest to the farmers." This time, the devil believed he would get the upper hand. In the next crop cycle, the people grew corn instead where maize cobs grow in the center of the plant. Once again when harvest came, the farmers took all the cobs and left the rest behind for the devil. Again the devil was outsmarted. This time, he made up his mind to take all of the land and the farmers had no more land to farm.

Because of the people's misfortune, Buddha appeared again and they began to complain: "How can we live like this?" "Don't worry" answered Buddha. "Go tell the devil that you want to rent his land for gold. Just rent a small plot of land enough for a single bamboo tree. Make sure that the devil will vow that all land under the bamboo's shadow will belong to you." The people then collected all the gold they had and went to negotiate with the devil. Stunned with the gold and believing that they would certainly be defeated, the devil agreed with the plan at once.

Bamboo trees were planted and they grew straight and luxuriant. Their shadow spread far and wide with every passing year. The longer they lived, the more immense their shadow became. Finally, one day there was no more land for the devil who was driven out to sea. Since then the people have been free to plant any kind of crop they want without giving a portion to the devil.

Being deprived of his land, the devil wanted vengeance at any cost and swore to retrieve his former land. With the support of wild and ferocious beasts, he let his subjects go to the village to plunder and loot the crops. Armed with spears and sticks, the people fought against the hostile forces to guard the rice fields they had gained at the expense of their own lives. At the same time, Buddha appeared and advised them to "Go to the forest and make bows and arrows to kill them and make use of water mingled with garlic and lime to splash on their faces." Following Buddha's advice, they made the weapons and waited for the enemy. When the devil came with his gang, they met tough resistance from the farmers. Leaving their enemies behind, the living survivors ran in every direction.

After that enormous defeat, the devil was put back out to sea and gave up his ambitions to regain the land. His only wish was that every year he be allowed to return to his former native village for a visit to his ancestors' graves.

This is the reason why every year when Tet comes, farmers plant a neu tree in front of their house. The shadow of neu symbolizes the land acquired by the men in the legend. The sounds of small bells and gongs on neu remind us of man's right to own the land and the bows and arrows tell us that they were once the weapons used to fight off the devil.

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