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What is Nêu pole erecting ceremony and its role for Tết ?

Since the old days, Nêu pole erecting ceremony has been a beautiful custom in Vietnamese minds. Under the Nguyễn Dynasty, the palace elaborated it to a royal rite with tall bamboo pole erected in the Imperial City. It was royal court signal to announce the beginning of Tet festival. While visiting Hue during Tet holidays, you may have chance to attend “Thướng Tiêu” the Nêu pole erecting ceremony. This article helps you understand more about the origin and meaning of “Nêu” pole. It also gives you more information to explore Hue “The Festival city of Vietnam” meaningfully.

Why was Nêu pole erecting ceremony important for Vietnamese?

Legend has it that in the ancient times, devils overwhelmed humans on this earth. Humans could only rent and worked hard to pay off to devils. With the help of Buddha, humans finally overcame the devils and chased them far out into the East Sea. However, every New Year came, the devils asked for permission to pay visit to their ancestors. Buddha allowed them to come back with restriction. Humans erected the pole to mark the territory where devils should not enter.

According to a book by Trịnh Hoài Đức “Geography of Gia Định” (Gia Định Thành Thông Chí), it is recorded that: “During the last days of the year, there is a tall tree erected in front of every house. On the treetop tied a bamboo basket holding betel nut, areca, lime, and votive paper.

Vietnamese call it “Dựng Nêu” which represents the new year and remove the evils of the old year. They set up the pole on the 23rd of December in lunar calendar. That is the day when the Kitchen Gods go to heaven to report the Jade Emperor. The Nêu pole helps scare off the devils during the Kitchen God’s absence. People keep the Nêu pole until the 7th of January before bringing it down. Tet holidays is then over.

How was Nêu pole erecting ceremony in Hue royal palace?

Under the Nguyễn dynasty, the royal court also practiced erecting the Nêu pole. However, they leveraged the custom to a royal rite and named it “Thướng Tiêu”. It has the symbolic meaning as raising up a title. The royal Nêu pole was the first and highest for other to see and follow. Beside popular offering and ritual, mandarins tied up imperial stamps on the tree. When they raised the pole up that means imperial work was on pause. Tet holidays could then begin. The Thướng Tiêu ceremony in the Imperial City was elaborated with more sophisticated procedure and royal court music. The royal palace raised the pole as a wish for national peace, prosperity, and favorable weather. After the ceremony, other ministries, household followed to erect their Nêu pole.  

Hanging up the stamp to inform the pause of administrative work (Image source: VOV)

What is the “Thướng Tiêu” Nêu pole ceremony like?

Where and When does the ceremony take place?

Thanks to careful research, the officers at Hue Monuments Conservation Centre can now re-enact the “Thướng Tiêu” Nêu pole erecting ceremony in the Imperial City. The activity takes place every year on the 23rd of December in lunar calendar. This year, it falls on 25th of January, 2022 in solar calendar.

The procession goes from Hiển Nhơn Gate through Thái Hòa Palace to Thế Tổ Miếu (the temple to worship the Kings of the Nguyen Dynasty).

The procession with royal court music from Hien Nhon gate to The Mieu temple

Recreating royal rites through Thướng Tiêu Ceremony

Based on cultural archives, Thướng Tiêu ceremony is very vividly recreated, from costumes, rituals to music. This is not only a cultural and tourist highlight. It does also contribute to leverage the atmosphere of the traditional Tet holidays. Moreover, this rite commits to honoring profound cultural and human values.

From the Hiển Nhơn gate, ten strong men in Nguyễn dynasty soldiers’ uniforms carry a mature bamboo. It is more than 15m long and serves as a Nêu pole. In the company of the royal court music, the procession advances to Thái Hòa Palace and then Thế Miếu Temple to conduct the erecting ceremony. Here, the seniors and master of ceremony have prepared the altar, offering and a band of royal court ceremonial music. The seniors will represent to perform the rites with solemnity. After the ceremony, ten porters will set up the Nêu pole to signal the arrival of the Tet holidays.

Re-enact royal ritual before erecting Neu pole

Slow Travel to experience Nêu pole erecting ceremony during Tết holidays

Beside Thế Miếu Temple, the Nêu pole erecting activity is to be performed at Long An Palace (Royal museum of antiquities) and other places in the complex of Hue monuments, from 23rd to 30th before Tết. Whilst visiting Hue on Tết holidays, you should slow down to immerse yourself in the traditional cultural and festival space. You will feel like traveling back in time to bath in the glorious charm. Walking or cycling around the Citadel will be a great opportunity to fully absorb the new year vibe.

In addition, when attending the ceremony, you will also feel the solemnity of royalty. Refined rituals and elegant music evoke the unique characters of Hue heritage that cannot be found anywhere else.

Tourists attend the “Thướng Tiêu”, Nêu pole erecting ceremony in the Imperial city (Image source: VisitHue)

To sum up, Nêu pole erecting ceremony in the royal palace helps the today audience easily perceive the values ​​of traditional cultural heritage. Hue is also the land of festivals that invite you to come all four seasons. Just in case you miss the ceremony of Thướng Tiêu, you will still have a lot of opportunities to experience “Hue then and now”. In fact, from 2022, the authorities and people of Hue aim at a whole year of festivals for you to roam freely.

If you are wondering which tours to take so as to enjoy the best of Hue culture, people, and nature, then check out the handcrafted tours by Slow Travel Hue or read further below articles for more inspirations.

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