By Minh Nguyen, Thinh Nguyen
HANOI. —- Vietnamese kicked off preparations for the Lunar New Year festival on Thursday by releasing ornamental carp into rivers and lakes – an age-old ceremony held one week before the “Tet” holiday officially begins.
The tradition stems from the fable of three “Kitchen Gods” who ride on the back of a carp before noon to meet a Jade Emperor, to whom they report the affairs of each household.
“Releasing the fish makes me feel better about myself,” said Nguyen Hong Nhung, a resident of Hanoi. “It’s like I’ve done a good deed, so I’ll be luckier in the new year”.
Thursday’s event, which takes place across Vietnam, was slightly more muted than previous years, following the detection of a new cluster of COVID-19 cases across several northern provinces.
Thanks to aggressive contact tracing and targeted mass testing, Vietnam has kept its tally to a low 1,948 cases, and 35 deaths.
Despite that, the recent confirmation that Vietnam’s latest outbreak was of the more contagious variant of the disease first detected in Britain led some to take extra precautions.
“Regardless of whether there’s an outbreak, Vietnamese will still follow the tradition of releasing the fish, but COVID-19 has made people keep a safe distance,” said Tran Van Toi, as he released orange carp from a plastic bag by Hanoi’s West Lake.
In recent years, as awareness about plastic pollution grows, environmental groups have started to organise special drop-off points for the carp, so as to better manage the excess waste caused by stray plastic bags.
On Hanoi’s iconic Long Bien bridge, one group carried signs that read “RELEASE THE FISH, NOT THE PLASTIC BAGS!”.
Thich Tinh Giac, a monk, noted the trend: “This year, due to COVID, there are fewer people releasing fish here, but there is a major change in attitude towards plastic bags,” Giac said.
“After years of persuasion, now they don’t throw the plastic bags into the water anymore but collect them to be recycled”.