Family members of Pham Viet Thoi, 70, gathered at his home in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh District at 8 a.m. a day this week to virtually attend Vu Lan Festival in Lac Hong Vien Cemetery Park, Hoa Binh Province.
The festival, celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, which falls on September 2 this year, provides children the opportunity to honor their parents and ancestors.
Thoi and his family members watch festival proceedings via a tablet. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Ngoan.
In previous years, Thoi’s family had rented a 16-seat car to visit the ancestral tomb, equipped with a tray of vegetarian offerings. This year, due to the ongoing pandemic, the family had to resort to online celebrations.
Using a smart device, the patriarch can now arrange incense lighting, flower delivery, food offerings, joss paper burning, and specially composed prayers for the deceased.
According to Thoi, the cemetery currently offers 24 packages, priced from VND80,000-2 million ($3.4-86.8). The basic bundle, which costs from VND80,000-200,000, only includes josh paper burning, while the VND2 million package entails an offering ceremony, food tray, fruit, golden incense holder, and grave cleaning.
This year, Thoi’s family went for the 9-course option, priced at VND1.5 million ($65.1).
Similarly, the family of Le Thi Bich Huong in Thanh Xuan District opted for an online ceremony, instead of preparing vegetarian offerings and attending Vu Lan Festival at the pagoda until 1 a.m the next day.
Le Thi Bich Huong lights incense at home ahead of the virtual commemoration. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Ngoan.
This year, Huong chose a package including vegetarian dishes, fruit and joss paper for about VND2 million, all prepared by cemetery staff, who also clean the grave.
Even though she had booked the online service, Huong still visited the market early in the morning to prepare fruits and offerings at home.
“Due to the pandemic, we cannot visit the cemetery in person to celebrate our ancestors, forcing us to go online. I hope the outbreak would end soon so life can return to normal and our children and grandchildren can gather to pay tribute to their ancestors,” she commented.
In the past few days, Thu Lan and fellow staff at Lac Hong Vien Cemetery Park, wearing masks, have diligently cleaned graves, burned incense and offered prayers, food trays and plates of fruit, all captured on film.
Cemetery staff live stream a tomb cleaning process. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Ngoan.
“Vietnamese families often choose a full-service package, or a vegetarian option consisting of seven to nine dishes. Those unable to return from overseas, or the well off also choose this package. Everyone can visit the cemetery online,” Lan explained.
Tran Tuan Anh, general director of Toan Cau Company that operates Lac Hong Vien Cemetery Park, said thousands of families would normally flock here to visit their ancestral tombs during this time.
He said this year is the first time the cemetery has deployed online services, with nearly 1,000 customers having placed orders.
According to Anh, all stages from preparation of offerings to performing rituals were held in solemn respect.