based on the adapted version by George F. Schultz

The Kitchen Gods going to heaven

There is a popular belief in Vietnam that Tao Quan, the Three Kitchen Gods, are present in the kitchen of every home. These gods observe everything that takes place there. At the end of the lunar year, on the twenty-third day of the twelfth month, they depart to Heaven to inform Ngoc Hoang, the Jade Emperor, supreme divinity of the Taoist Heaven, of their owner's affairs during the year round. On that day Tao Ouan are offered the best of food and spices and are presented with gifts of money and clothing.

Long, long ago, when Earth and Sky met in the Valley of Whispers, in the dense, green forest there lived a woodcutter and his wife. They were very poor and oftentimes the man was unable to earn enough to buy their food. Frustration and worry drove him to drink, and took the beating on his wife. She couldn't endure it any longer. One night, she fled the cottage and was never seen there again.

For days and weeks, the woman wandered in the forest. She was hungry and her feet were torn and bleeding. Finally, she came to a hunter's cabin. The owner was an honest man, who gave her food and permitted her to rest in his home. She kept house for him then, and after some time they were married. They lived together in great happiness, and it seemed that the woman had forgotten the terrors of her previous marriage.

One day while they were burning paper money and clothes to their ancestors in the yard, a beggar came in. The woman realized that the beggar was her former husband. Felt sorry for his fate, she gave him money and rice, not wanting her new husband to know. Later, the new husband was told about this and he suspected the woman's virtue. The woman, to prove her righteousness, committed suicide by jumping in to the fire. Seeing this heart-rending sight, the former husband also jumped into the fire. The new husband, regretting for what he has thought of his wife, did the same as the other two did. The Jade Emperor was so moved by their faithfulness, offered them the title of the Gods of the Kitchen.

Based on that legend, on 23rd day of the twelfth lunar month, every household buys to male hats for two men and one female hat for woman, together with three fresh carps (acting as horses for the Kings). After the offering ceremony, the household owner releases the carps to the lakes or ponds nearby.

Although the Kitchen Gods fly to Heaven on the 23rd day of the twelfth lunar month, they will return sharply on the 30th day of the same month before the last moment of the old year comes.

You probably wonder why there are three Kitchen Gods instead of just one? Well, the reason for having 3 Kitchen Gods is because the Vietnamese traditional clay stove (bê'p, lò) provides three support posts for the pots and pans. Thus we have 3 posts that are bound together at the base - a tri-deity? We don't know which started first, the legend or the stove, but the association is definitely interesting.

Comments/Questions? Email Khánh Loan