The custom that worships Kitchen Gods (known as Ông Táo or Táo Quân in Vietnamese) belongs to the folk belief of Eastern Asia countries. The people in these countries including Vietnamese believe that there are Kitchen Gods in each home. These gods are responsible for running the housework and checking everything that the family carries out. Every year, Kitchen Gods sum up and on December 23rd, the gods come back to heaven to report to Jade Emperor. On this occasion, each family organizes a ceremony to farewell to the Kitchen Gods. The ceremony shows the respect and gratitude of every family to Kitchen Gods. The respect and gratitude to anybody that help them are the good virtues of the Vietnamese people.
There are many stories talking about the origin of Kitchen Gods. Following is the most interesting and popular story about Kitchen Gods in Vietnam. Once upon a time, there was a very poor couple, the husband was Trong Cao, the wife was Thi Nhi. They had lived together for a long time but hadn’t born any child. Therefore, they were usually sad and argued with each other. One day Trong Cao was so angry that he struck his wife. Being angry, Thi Nhi left home, then met a man named Pham Lang. He used sweet words to seduce her and she agreed to be his wife. When the anger was over, Trong Cao went to look for Thi Nhi everywhere, but could not found any news about her. He was very upset, stopped his job left the house. He decided to become a beggar and went around many regions to look for his wife.
One day, Trong Cao came to a rich family to beg. The female householder gave him some rice. Trong Cao recognized that was his wife – Thi Nhi and so do Thi Nhi. They could not forget former love. Thi Nhi told that she regretted having got Pham Lang to be a husband. When they were talking to each other, accidentally the new husband – Pham Lang came back from the paddy rice field. Thi Nhi told Trong Cao to hide inside a stack of straw. Pham Lang burned straws in order to get straw ash to manure a field so that Trong Cao died of fire. The former wife Thi Nhi saw that, rushed into the fire to be dead with him. Pham Lang saw his wife die, he also rushed into the fire to be dead with her.
Jade Emperor found that these three people are faithful in marriage, he conferred the title Kitchen Gods on them and appointed each person a job: Pham Lang takes care of kitchen work, Trong Cao takes care of housework, Thi Nhi takes care of going shopping.
Vietnam has 3 regions: North, Central, South. Each region has a little difference in offerings. The North has the votive consisting of 1 the Kitchen Gods’ picture, 1 three-carp picture (or 3 real carps), some money, 1 vase of flowers, 1 censer, 1 fruit tray, 3 glasses of tea, 1 plate of cakes and so on. The Central and the South do not have 1 three-carp picture, instead of people use 1 picture of horse and stork.
All offerings are laid out on the table placed in front of the house. Homeowner burns incense, sets on the forehead and pray, “Today is December 23rd of the lunar calendar, our family prepares offerings to set off you to return zenith. Please receive them and go the way peacefully. Please bless our family, in the new year getting to full rice, warm clothes, and peaceful family”. The praying finishes, the homeowner put the incense up the altar and nods 3 times. Finally, the homeowner set all votive into a pot and burned.