Over the weekend, I went out with my dear friends for a birthday celebration (Happy Birthday again!) and since it’s now the “Vegetarian” Festival in Thailand, we discussed and wondered about its origins and what is this festival really for? All we know is that for a period of 9 days, people of Chinese descent in Thailand go “vegetarian” or “vegan.” During this period, those participating in the festival abstain from eating meat, anything made from meat (including oil or fat), eggs, and vegetables that have strong flavours. Garlic, onions, and chives are all off limits. Even fish sauce that is used in most Thai dishes are substituted.
I wonder what is this festival for? Do people in other countries celebrate this festival as much as we do here in Thailand? Everywhere I go during the 9 days of the festival, I find shops and restaurants all raising the signature yellow flag to tell me that they serve “Je” or Vegetarian food. Almost everything is made of soy. There are fake ducks, fake pork and anything you could think of. All the “meats” look real, but they aren’t.
I had to find out. (And yes, my friends have also given me the responsibility of finding out since I am the “blogger.” Something I happily do :))
So here goes: From my web research, I discovered that this “Vegetarian” festival takes places predominantly in Southeast Asia and is also known by this very exotic name of “Nine Emperor Gods Festival.” (Did you know that?? Cool isn’t it? )
This festival is actually of Taoist origins and therefore supposedly goes back to ancient religious beliefs about celestial movements. It is celebrated on the eve of the 9th lunar month of the Chinese calendar (October 11-19th). Now since the three jewels of Taoism are compassion, moderation, and humility, I think this “Vegetarian” festival in someway is reflective of those beliefs.
It reminds me of the Muslim fast and the Christian lent, though at a lesser degree. This period of abstention from “meat” and vegetables with flavours I believe is meant to be a period of self-reflection. During this time, since our taste buds are not stimulated by “worldly” meats and flavours, we are reminded of how fortunate we are to have “meat” and flavour in our lives. We are to eat as those without eat. We are to go back to our roots, mother nature and remind ourselves of what it is to have and not have.
I think the “fake” meats and all came a long time after the origins of this festival had long been forgotten.
At the start of the festival, the Nine Emperor Gods which are all celestial stars high above us are welcomed in the Chinese temples. Devotees dress in white and processions are held. in Bangkok’s Chinatown where this is widely celebrated, all the food stalls and restaurants celebrate this event with lots of food. Hungry people roam the shops looking for delicious vegetarian food.
In Phuket, where this festival was supposedly first brought to Thailand, it is also held with much ado with processions and magical performances. The “magical” performances are supposed to show us how those guarded by the “Gods” can do unhumanly feats and still come out unscathed.
It’s amazing how such celebrations evolve and change over time. As more and more people try it each year, in hopes of a healthier and happier life, this “Vegetarian” festival will continue to prosper. At least in Thailand anyways. It’s a whole big affair here. To good health! 🙂