Arts - February 19, 2019 | 07:53 pm PT

Vietnamese Chinese community celebrates first full moon of the year

The Chinese Vietnamese community in Saigon brightened the city Tuesday with a colorful parade, dragon dances and traditional rituals.

For the Hoa ethnic Chinese people in Vietnam, Nguyen Tieu is the biggest and most important festival of the year, marking the final day of the traditional Lunar New Year (Tet) celebration. It is observed on the 15th day of the first lunar month, the first Full Moon day of the New Year.

They light lanterns, eat dumplings at home and flock to pagodas with offerings and pray to deities with special incense.

One of the must-to-do things during the Tet Nguyen Tieu is to light incense to deities and Gods at all pagodas and temples. The belief is that this is a good time to pray for removal of bad luck and wish a year of peace and happiness for everyone.

The On Lang Pagoda in District 5 is full of devotees burning incense and praying.

The fragrance of incense, the sounds of bell ringing and prayers being whispered imbue the pagoda with an ambience of piety.

Inside the 250-year-old Thien Hau Pagoda, which is dedicated to worship the Goddess of the Sea, the devout send their prayers to by lighting spiral incense sticks that can burn for weeks.

The Chinese community, an inseparable part of Saigon, have kept their long-standing traditions alive through celebrations of festivals as well as daily activities.

A lion dance troupe performs in front of a temple in District 5.

Tet Nguyen Tieu is the time for the Chinese community to highlight their cultural identity by organizing the city`s largest street parade, featuring lion dances and performers in costumes accompanied by marching bands. The parade winds its way through main streets in the Cho Lon area, better known as Chinatown.

Red lanterns are a must during the festival. The Chinese community credits business success and happiness to divine blessings, so every family maintains the custom of hanging hand scrolls, lanterns or calligraphy paintings in red, a symbol of luck and prosperity, in front of their homes during the Tet holiday and the Nguyen Tieu festival.

Dragon dances are also an indispensable part of Nguyen Tieu festival celebrations.

The parade, over a kilometer (0.62 miles) long, departs from Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street, famous for Chinese traditional medicine business, and goes through Chau Van Liem, Lao Tu, Luong Nhu Hoc and Nguyen Trai streets.

Stilt walkers dressed as fairies in Chinese mythology perform during the festival.

Ly Minh Tong, 54, drove his family on a motorbike to watch the parade. They took a photo with a performer dressed as Ton Ngo Khong (Monkey), the main character in the Chinese classic novel Journey to the West, which was been adapted to TV serials and movies that became quite popular.

"For us, the Nguyen Tieu Festival is an important occasion to welcome the first Full Moon of the year and pray for peace and prosperty," Tong said.

Many Chinese businesspeople closed their shops on the day to join the celebrations.

People cheered as the parade wound its way through the streets.

Story and photos by Nguyen Quy, Huu Khoa