Vietnam Tet's regional five-fruit tray in differences

While fruits on the North's five-fruit tray are chosen by colors and by the rule of Yin and Yang, fruits of the South are chosen by the meaning of their names.
February 11, 2021 | 07:00
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The Northern five fruit tray. (Photo: VN Express)

The five-fruit tray on Tet, an indispensable offering to the ancestors, is a traditional Vietnamese custom that has been preserved for many generations. The five-fruit tray is a tray consisting of 5 different types of fruit, expressing desire and devotion towards the roots of the Vietnamese people. Explaining the using the five but not three, Assoc.Prof.Dr. Nguyen Huy Thieu, former Deputy Director of the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, said that according to the ancient conception, the number five was the five elements corresponding to human destiny. Odd numbers show positive spirit, therefore, the number 5 stands for "recreation", representing the proliferation development.

In addition, the number 5 also symbolizes the desire to welcome the five blessings into the house. Five blessings include wealth, high social status, longevity, health, and peace. Depending on climatic, geographical, and perceptional characteristics, people in the North and the South choose different kinds of fruits for their tray.

According to Thieu, the northern five-fruit tray often has a bunch of green bananas representing Wood; the yellow grapefruit or fingered citron represents Earth; the red pepper represents Fire; peaches or pears for Metal; Black grapes represent Water. The Northern people avoid choosing fruits that have unpleasant fragrances, thorns, or rough skins to avoid bad luck. The fruits displayed on the five-fruit tray are selected by odd numbers. The bunch of bananas is the most important as it represents the Buddha's hand facing up to protect and bring blessings to the homeowner. When buying, the housewives will choose a bunch of green bananas with long fruits pointing upward.

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The Southern five fruit tray. (Photo: VN Express)

In contrast, the Southerners pay little attention to the number of fruits and colors, but often choose the fruit according to their names. All decorations are in pairs. According to Dr. Han Nguyen Nguyen Nha, the five-fruit tray in the South includes custard-apple, fig, coconut, papaya, and mango, corresponding to the pronunciation "wish to earn enough for a living". In addition, a pineapple can be added to express the wish for stability and desire to have many children and grandchildren.

Southerners' five-fruit tray lacks bananas because the name of bananas in Southern accent is almost sound like "fall", expressing the difficulty and unabashed business. On the Tet holiday, few people choose tangerines, pears, and apples for fear of bad luck and failure. Beside the tray of five fruits, the ancestors and gods' altar always has a pair of watermelon. The melon is round, the green skin of the red flesh represents the fullness and fullness of the beginning of the year. Today, many families like to innovate by buying more yellow watermelon and square watermelon to enrich Tet's five-fruit tray.

Different from the North or the South, the Central people often display a simpler five-fruit tray. The tray can have any kind of fruit as the locals believe that only the sincerity of the house owner matters. The fruit tray on the altar on Tet holidays of three different regions has the same purpose: showing their appreciation towards the ancestors, to wish for a favorable and lucky New Year.

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