Local Customs And Traditions In Hanoi, Vietnam: The City’s Cultural Heritage
Hanoi has a rich cultural history spanning over a thousand years and is a melting pot of diverse customs and traditions that have evolved over time, influenced by various dynasties and foreign occupations.
The traditions of Hanoi, woven into the fabric of daily life, remain an essential aspect of the city’s identity so let’s look closely at the local customs and traditions of Hanoi, delving into their history and significance to the people who call this city home.
The Temple of Literature (Van Mieu) Ceremony
The Temple of Literature, or Văn Miếu, is a Confucian temple in Hanoi, built in 1070 during the reign of Emperor Lý Thánh Tông. This historical landmark houses the “Imperial Academy,” Vietnam’s first national university. The temple is dedicated to Confucius and his disciples, embodying the importance of education in Vietnamese culture.
Each year in February, the temple hosts a ceremonial event known as the Văn Miếu Ceremony. This tradition dates back to the Lý Dynasty (1009-1225) when the emperor and his court would gather at the temple to honor Confucius, seek his wisdom, and pray for academic success.
Today, the ceremony has evolved into a colorful and elaborate event that includes traditional music, dance performances, and the offering of incense, flowers, and fruits. Students, scholars, and locals attend the event, seeking blessings and inspiration for their academic pursuits.
Tet – Vietnamese Lunar New Year
Tet is the most important festival in Vietnam, celebrated with much fervor in Hanoi and traditionally falling between January 21st and February 20th, the festival marks the arrival of spring and the beginning of a new lunar year. Tet is a time for family reunions, ancestral worship, and the hope for a prosperous year ahead.
Hanoi’s Tet preparations begin weeks in advance, with locals cleaning their homes, purchasing new clothes, and preparing special dishes. Markets bustle with activity as people shop for traditional decorations such as peach blossoms, kumquat trees, and red banners inscribed with auspicious phrases.
One of the most important customs of Tet is the preparation of bánh chung, a traditional square-shaped sticky rice cake filled with mung beans and pork. This cake symbolizes the Earth and is an offering to the ancestors.
On the eve of Tet, Hanoi’s streets come alive with music, fireworks, and the laughter of children as families gather to celebrate the New Year. The first few days of Tet are dedicated to visiting relatives, exchanging lucky money in red envelopes, and paying respects at temples and pagodas.
Hanoi’s Ancient Quarter
Hanoi’s Ancient Quarter, also known as the Old Quarter or “36 Streets,” is a testament to the city’s rich cultural heritage. With a history dating back to the 11th century, this vibrant neighborhood is an intricate maze of narrow streets, each named after a specific trade or craft practiced there.
From silk weaving and silverwork to traditional medicine and bamboo crafting, these streets showcase Hanoi’s diverse customs and traditions.
The Ancient Quarter is also home to several temples and pagodas, reflecting the spiritual life of Hanoians. One of the most notable is the Bach Mã Temple, dedicated to the White Horse deity, who, according to legend, helped King Lý Thái Tổ select the site for his new capital.
Today, the Ancient Quarter is a bustling hub of commerce, where age-old traditions coexist with modernity, and locals and tourists alike can immerse themselves in Hanoi’s unique cultural landscape.
Originating in the Red River Delta in northern Vietnam over a thousand years ago, water puppetry is a distinctive art form that has become synonymous with Hanoi’s cultural identity. The tradition began when rice farmers, whose fields were often flooded, crafted puppets from wood and used the water’s surface as their stage.
Water puppetry was initially a form of entertainment during festivities, but it gradually evolved into a popular performance art.
Water puppet shows narrate historical legends, folktales, and scenes from rural life, accompanied by a traditional Vietnamese orchestra. The puppets, skilfully manipulated by hidden puppeteers standing waist-deep in water, appear to dance and glide effortlessly on the water’s surface.
The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, located near Hoàn Kiem Lake, is a popular venue in Hanoi for experiencing this mesmerizing art form.
Hanoi’s Street Food Culture
Hanoi’s street food culture is a reflection of the city’s culinary traditions and its people’s love for communal dining. The narrow streets and alleys of Hanoi are lined with makeshift stalls and family-run eateries, where locals gather to share delicious meals and engage in lively conversation.
One of the city’s most iconic dishes is pho, a fragrant noodle soup made with beef or chicken, served with fresh herbs and bean sprouts and other popular street food items include bánh mì (a Vietnamese sandwich), bún cha (grilled pork with rice noodles) and nem rán (fried spring rolls). Hanoi’s street food culture is not only a testament to the city’s rich culinary heritage, but also a symbol of its warm and hospitable spirit.
Ancestor worship (thờ cúng tổ tiên), is a deeply ingrained tradition in Vietnamese culture and Hanoi is no exception. Most households have an ancestral altar where they pay respects to their departed family members, expressing gratitude for their protection and guidance and typically features photographs of the ancestors, along with offerings such as incense, candles, flowers and food.
In Hanoi, the Vu Lan Festival, also known as the “Ghost Festival,” is an important event that honors ancestors and deceased loved ones. Held annually during the seventh lunar month, the festival involves several rituals, including the preparation of elaborate feasts, the release of paper lanterns on water, and the offering of votive paper items to appease wandering spirits.
Hanoi’s customs and traditions are an integral part of the city’s cultural fabric, giving it a unique character and charm. From the vibrant celebrations of Tet to the serene rituals of ancestor worship, these practices reflect the values, beliefs, and history that have shaped Hanoian society.
By understanding and appreciating these customs and traditions, one can gain a deeper insight into the rich cultural heritage of Hanoi and its people.