Religion and belief have exerted a deep influence on Vietnamese culture and the Vietnamese concept of life. The attitude towards life, death, and the world beyond bears a deep imprint of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism and the belief in the King and the Goddess in Vietnam.
The worship of Hung Kings originates from Hung Kings dynasty in the belief that all Vietnamese people have the same origin, they are “Dragon’s children and Fairy’s grand-child”. It also expresses Vietnamese philosophy (“When drinking water, remember the source”) and the spirit of great national unity. This is a belief spreading widely from generation to the next in Vietnam, mainly in Phu Tho province. This belief is recognized as an Intangible Cultural Herritage by UNESCO.
It is widely believed that the deity known as Thiên Y A Na is the Vietnamized version of the Cham deity, Poh Nagar, meaning “Lady of the Kingdom”. When the Việt came down from the North to central Vietnam and took over control of the land occupied by the Cham people, they attempted to assimilate the Cham into Việt culture. In doing so, they Vietnamized certain aspects of Cham culture that appealed to the Việt. It is through this process that the goddess Poh Nagar became Thiên Y A Na.
The tradition of celebrating Tet Tao Quan comes from a popular fairy tale about “2 men and a woman”, who later would become the trio of Deities, or “Tao Quan”. The story began with the couple of Trong Cao- the husband, and Thi Nhi- the wife. They had got married for such a long time but had not had any children yet, which made them very upset and quarrel with each other frequently. One day, Trong Cao was so angry at his wife that he casted her out. Thi Nhi left home, and after that married Pham Lang.
As time went by, Trong Cao realized his fault, and went out to find his beloved woman. He spent every single coin on his way and unwillingly became a beggar. He met Thi Nhi by chance at her new home. Cao’s explanation touched Thi Nhi and they talked for hours about the past and their current life.
As Pham Lang came home, Thi Nhi thought it would be awkward if the two men saw each other so she told Trong Cao to hide inside the stack of straw in the backyard. Pham Lang burnt the straw into ashes for fertilizing the field, accidentally cremated Trong Cao. The story had a tragic ending when Thi Nhi decided to jump into the fire to die with Trong Cao, and Pham Lang also killed himself after witnessing the death of his wife. However, when their souls flied to the Heavens, Ngoc Hoang (the Jade Emperor) conferred them with the title of ‘Tao Quan”: Pham Lang would be Deity of Kitchen, Trong Cao would be the Deity of Land and House, and Thi Nhi would be the Deity of Market. Together, they looked after the well-being of people’ house and property. Every year, on the 23rd day of December in Lunar New Year, they would travel up to the Heavens to give the annual report as well as pray for next year’s prosperity. They would come back to Earth on the New Year’s Eve, continuing their duties for the rest of the year.