A cultural researcher's perspective on preserving and developing traditional spring festivals

February 08, 2023 - 08:53
Cultural researcher Nguyễn Hùng Vỹ, a former lecturer at Hà Nội National University, spoke about the values and significance of traditional festival preservation and development.
Cultural researcher Nguyễn Hùng Vỹ. Photo toquoc.vn

Festivals are back across the nation this spring after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cultural researcher Nguyễn Hùng Vỹ, a former lecturer at Hà Nội National University, spoke about the values and significance of traditional festival preservation and development.

What is the role of traditional festivals in Vietnamese people’s spiritual life?

Festivals can be divided into two categories; traditional and modern. All festivals before 1945 are traditional, and those after are what we call modern festivals.

Traditional festivals have different significances regarding culture, religion and famous personalities. Festivals play an important role in preserving our national cultural identities and community structure.

Festivals help people express themselves. There are people who never sing or dance, but at festivals, they perform a hero character well, and they are proud of it.

Festivals create communication values and expand social relations. This can be seen in northern villages. People are hospitable, inviting guests to their village festival. Villagers are proud of how many guests come to their festival.

Festival helps to preserve traditional cultural identities and contributes to world culture.

There is a common point that almost all festivals are held in spring. What is the meaning?

Festivals are usually held at the beginning of the new year when we acquire and use the lunar calendar. People always want to hold festivals during the first lunar month to open a new year, a new life and a new labour cycle.

Traditional festival meets people's demand comprising religious and festive factors.

Plus, the first lunar month is leisure after harvest time.

In the past, people used to plant rice before the lunar new year aiming at having leisure time when the new year came. An old verse says that tháng Giêng là tháng ăn chơi (the first lunar month is best to relax). However, the verse is about the agriculture calendar, not suggesting people spend the whole month relaxing.

As a result, festivals are usually held in the spring because spring is leisure time after harvest, with nice weather and fewer natural disaster.

Festivals are cultural events that need to be preserved and developed. However, festivals also have good and bad things. What do you think?

Festivals are a form of accumulation and a method of social reflection. If there is something in society, the festival will accumulate it.

Factually, some festivals focus on commercial purposes. This is not good. We know that, and we are gradually managing it.

But it is easy due to the large and diverse number of festivals. Moreover, the line between belief and superstition is very thin, and many people benefit from festivals.

In Vietnamese society, cultural imports are not selective, so the phenomenon of superstition is increasing, which can have some bad effects.

However, it must be stressed that the superstition phenomenon only occurs at a few festivals, not all.

How could we limit negative phenomena at festivals?

We see festivals as a traditional cultural heritage with a value system throughout national history. Festivals are a priceless spirit and natural resource. We need to preserve and develop them.

UNESCO sets out four tasks of heritage; understanding, preserving, developing and popularising. These four tasks are interrelated, but understanding must be one step ahead. When we understand the value system, the core, and the way of organisation, we can preserve it.

Festivals are an endless movement in history without originality. It is a development system. Therefore, preservation must look at the core, the significance and the value system. We need to choose appropriate actions for preservation.

Since 1945, Việt Nam has carried out heritage preservation and development effectively. So we need to continue to promote and develop in many ways.

People's demand for festivals and heritage is very high. Our capacity for research and practice is high too, but we need the right direction to develop. There must be specific plans and people to do it. VNS