Tet holiday is undoubted the most important and expected event of a year in Vietnam. During Tet, a number of traditional meaningful customs are practiced and calligraphy hanging is one of most beautiful one.
The custom does not only reflect Vietnamese people’s respect to knowledge but helps preserve a time-honored activity as well. The meaningful characters written on special papers have become the symbol of good luck, worshipping objects for thousands years in Vietnam.
The source of Calligraphy Giving
Calligraphy giving is a special traditional custom in Vietnam which originated from the art of writing beautifully. Like many other Vietnamese traditions, no one can tell exactly where and when it began, but anyone can tell its importance and cultural value.
Thousand years ago, when the feudal system dominated Vietnam society, literature and scholars are highly respected and it was an extreme honor to receive a sample of their hand-writing.
Additionally, it is considered an object of attracting luck at the start of a new year. Therefore, for the whole idea, an honor of receiving scholars’ calligraphy is wholeheartedly appreciated.
The hidden meanings and values inside
A long time ago when Vietnam ancestors still used Han and Nom characters as the official writing scripts, the respect for studiousness and knowledge was set at the highest place. Mastering beautiful hand-writing is also an indispensable criterion for ones to be respected and to dive in the academic world. Scholars who mastered this ability were undoubtedly famous over the country.
Tet is really a golden chance for people to visit those scholars to ask for parallel sentences which are believed to bring some of the scholars’ erudition and luck to their home and their children.
People might want some particular characters, in which their wishes and dreams for the new year are laid, such as Phuc (Happiness), Loc (Wealth), Tho (to be long-lived), Duc (Virtue), Tri (Knowledge) or Tai (Talent). Those characters are then hung on walls like targets and reminders of them for people to strive in that year.
Nguyen Van Thanh – a veteran calligrapher said that “It’s my pleasure when people who were previously given calligraphy, coming back and tell me that their wishes have come true thanks to the hanged characters and ask me for other ones”.
Vietnamese calligraphy is even more profound and subtle when those connotative characters are combined with each other to form different meanings. To illustrate, “Phuc” often goes with “Duc” to form the term “Phuc Duc” because with Vietnamese, Phuc is the happiness rooted from the generous or charity things done to help others. Those actions are called “Duc” of one person, so “Phuc” is the result of “Duc”.
Legend says that the person who just goes by and has no desire for calligraphy, yet if recognized and gifted a piece of calligraphy by a calligrapher then she is supposed to be a virtuous person, who has something special. The receiver’s family and she herself would receive an exclusive godsend for the whole year as well as their wishes coming true during that year.
The immortal value of calligraphy giving
Vietnamese calligraphy in general and calligraphy giving suffered a long difficult time being forgotten due to the collapse of Vietnamese feudal system and two consecutive wars against French and American invaders. Also, the appearance of the modern Vietnamese scrip rooted from Latin characters was highly appreciated and almost immediately replaced Han and Nom scripts. As a result, the old writing styles and calligraphy hanging were quickly ignored by people.
Although calligraphy has passed it days and no longer be a prevalent custom for a long time, the image of an old scholar painstakingly draw beautiful black handwriting on red papers keeps remained inside Vietnamese people’s hearts through generations.
That image even goes inside the official literature textbook with the famous poem “Ong Do” (The old scholar) of Nguyen Dinh Lien, a famous scholar, who experienced the pain of being forgotten himself:
“Mỗi năm hoa đào nở
Lại thấy ông Đồ già
Bày mực tàu giấy đỏ
Bên phố đông người qua”
Which can be generally translated as following:
Every spring comes and peach flowers blossom,
The old scholar was seen
Who displays ink and red paper
To give calligraphy to many passing by people”.
“Entering a Vietnamese traditional house, the first attractions are parallel sentences, laudatory writings and horizontal lacquered boards reminding us of our ancestors’ traditions. Why the symbol of Vietnamese culture is not magnificent architectures and palaces but script? That’s because it has been engraved into people’s hearts and is a part of Vietnam’s soul”, said poet Phan Ngoc.
If you choose Vietnam as your destination for this Lunar New Year, let’s fall in line with the local animated atmosphere, visiting calligraphers at Van Mieu, Hanoi and ask for the script you like and then wait to see whether your wishes come true or not afterward!