Traditional calligraphy markets open for Tết

January 28, 2019 - 09:00

As the most important event of the year in Việt Nam, Tết (Lunar New Year) offers many traditional customs, including calligraphy.

A visitor takes a photo with calligraphers at the calligraphy market at Youth Cultural House. — VNS Photo by Phương Mai
Viet Nam News

By Phương Mai - Minh Thu

As the most important event of the year in Việt Nam, Tết (Lunar New Year) offers many traditional customs, including calligraphy.

Calligraphy expresses the Vietnamese people’s respect for knowledge. Before Tết, people receive calligraphic works in Vietnamese, Chinese and Hán-Nôm (Chinese Han and Vietnamese Nôm ideographic) scripts from elderly scholars. The scripts are written on beautiful (poohnah) paper and become symbols of good fortune.

“Receiving and giving calligraphic works have become a fine tradition of the Vietnamese people,” said Lê Xuân Kiêu, director of the Centre for Scientific and Cultural Activities of Văn Miếu – Quốc Tử Giám, where the Spring Calligraphy Festival is hosted annually.

The centre has co-operated with the Hà Nội Department of Culture and Sports to organise the festival at Văn (Literature) Lake beside the Temple of Literature from January 29 to February 17.

There are 60 booths designed as bamboo huts where scholars perform the art of writing, and children can come to enjoy traditional games and painting.

A traditional handicrafts fair will also be held to showcase products made from silk, lacquer, pottery, rattan and ornamental plants.

During the festival, visitors will enjoy traditional music such as love duets, hát xoan (Phú Thọ spring singing), chèo (traditional opera) and ca trù (ceremonial singing). At night, people can release lotus lanterns to pray for good fortune.

Visitors will also join a culinary experience and learn how to make bánh chưng (square sticky rice cake), an integral part of the Tết feast.

To offer foreign visitors a glimpse of Tết, the Hanoi Daewoo Hotel has turned part of its lobby into a special space featuring chưng cakes, peach blossoms, trays of “five natural element” fruits, red parallel sentences and calligraphy – the images that symbolise the traditional festival. Visting the corner, guests will have a chance to talk with calligrapher Thành Long to lean about the traditional custom.

Similar events to highlight the immortal value of calligraphy will take place in HCM City. Residents and visitors are already enjoying shopping and taking photos at calligraphy markets which have opened two weeks before Tết.

The colourful calligraphy market at the Youth Cultural House is always crowded with visitors taking lots of photos. 

More than 50 calligraphers are taking part in the event. They are all members of calligraphy clubs in the city and neighbouring provinces.

The calligraphers, dressed in áo dài (Vietnamese traditional dress), include men and women of varying ages selling calligraphy in black and yellow ink on red paper.

They sit on mats arranged in an oval shape symbolising peace, similar to calligraphy markets in the past.

The market is decorated with mai (ochna) and đào (peach blossom) trees set up along Phạm Ngọc Thạch Street and inside the Youth Cultural House.

Nguyễn Thị Hường, a 56-year-old living in Bình Thạnh District, said: “I often visit to look for calligraphy works at the market in hopes of bringing happiness, success, wealth and health to my family.”

“This year, I came with my daughter and granddaughter to shop and take photos. We want to keep these nice memories,” she added.

Apart from mai and đào trees, the market has a nostalgic background with old furniture and television sets, bringing back memories of Sài Gòn in the 1950s.

Võ Minh Trâm, a student at the HCM City University of Architecture, said: “As our tradition, my friends and I wear áo dài to take photos at the calligraphy market. This year, with a new background, we hope to have more nice photos for Tết.”

Another calligraphy market located at the Labour Cultural House in District 1 features nearly 30 artists. Most of them are members of the cultural house’s Vietnamese Calligraphy Club and some are students from the city’s universities.

Dương Hải Âu, a member of the club, said: “Thanks to the good response, we organise a calligraphy market every year during Tết. I’m happy to introduce my calligraphy works to people to wish them a happy New Year.”

Each calligraphy piece is priced from VNĐ20,000 to VNĐ200,000 (US$0.8-8.6), depending on the craftsmanship, size and materials. Larger works cost VNĐ500,000 ($21.5) or more.

The calligraphers are also taking requests from visitors for words to write on red lucky money envelopes. The envelopes cost from VNĐ30,000 ($1.3) for a set of five.

The lucky money envelopes and small calligraphy works are hung on mai trees to wish for luck, happiness and prosperity.

The markets at the Youth Cultural House and Labour Cultural House will remain open until February 4 (Lunar New Year’s Eve). — VNS



Young women in áo dài visit the calligraphy market at the Youth Cultural House to take colourful photos for Tết. — VNS Photo by Phương Mai
Calligraphers at the calligraphy market at the Youth Cultural House in HCM City’s District 1. — VNS photo by Phương Mai