The Lead up to Tet: Releasing Goldfish and The Three Kitchen Gods

I love the way I always notice and learn new things living in Hanoi. Despite having lived in Hanoi for two and a half years, it was only last Thursday that I chanced upon the extraordinary sight of everyone going to lakes around Hanoi and releasing goldfish. It wasn’t just one or two people, but virtually everyone in the city. I was perplexed – why?

Some released the fish by hand while others were more squemish

Some released the fish by hand while others were more squeamish

As part of the prelude to Tet, the 23rd day of the 12th lunar new year is dedicated to carrying out rituals for the Kitchen Gods. The stories seem to vary about the origins of the three kitchen gods, although the basic premise involves a love triangle between a woman and her first and second husband. The first husband becomes a beggar and returns by chance to the house of his original wife. She hides him from her new husband in a pile of straw which her husband later sets alight for fertilizer. Distraught the woman jumps into the flames, soon followed by her second husband. These three people became the Kitchen Gods – one female and two males who bless the household and keep the kitchen fire burning, ensuring the well-being of the family.

Families provide fish for these Gods to travel to heaven for their annual report to the Jade Emperor on the good and bad actions of each family. Three fish are purchased and are initially are kept by an altar before being released in lakes along with the ashes from the various offerings (money and paper boots and hats) which are burnt in hopes of a favourable report for the family. Although China has a similar tradition, using fish as transport for the gods is uniquely Vietnamese. It was great fun spending about an hour before sunset watching everyone pull up by motorbike, often with their children, and then release their three fish into West Lake.

A grandfather and his grandson watching the fish swim off to report to to the Jade Emperor

A grandfather and his grandson watching their fish swim off to report to to the Jade Emperor

Hanoi has been very hectic as always in the lead up to Tet with everyone bustling around doing final food and flower shopping before the holiday which begins tomorrow. One of my favourite things to watch are all the peach blossom and kumquat trees which get transported into the city from both the countryside and nurseries on the banks of the Red River. For pictures of the flower market please look at my last year’s post here.

The below album is just a snapshot of a few motorbikes which passed by on a walk with Tala, but the stream has been constant. The one Tet tradition I like to follow, even if there is little meaning beyond the aesthetic for me, is to buy a kumquat and peach blossom branch for the apartment. Of course, I too transported my rather large branch by bike!

My peach blossom branch is now in full bloom and with the recent warm weather I fear it will finish before the end of Tet. For more pictures from Tet and of the hound please check out my Instagram – ‘Juracraven’.

If anyone can share more information about the Kitchen Gods and the tradition of releasing fish I would be delighted to learn more! Happy New Year! Chuc Mung Nam Moi!