Vietnamese believes that the human body is full of parasites that accumulate in the body over time. On the 5th day of the fifth lunar month, they take action to get rid of those parasites. The Duanwau Festival which is the time when this is done is believed to have originated in China but it is now very much a Vietnamese affair. Certainly, it has existed in Vietnam for a very long time and is very much a Kinh tradition that will take place in every house. The Kinh is the majority ethnic group in Vietnam so tourists on holiday in Vietnam at the time of the Duanwau Festival are likely to see the signs of the event.
The significance of the date is that it corresponds with a day of change, spring to summer weather. It is a day in the middle of the year when everyone will try to rid themselves of evil spirits. As you tour in Vietnam, you will become aware of local beliefs and spirits, good and bad are part of life.
Everyone gets up early in the morning. At noon, there is prayer with offerings of fruit, sticky rice cake, and very importantly fermented sticky rice, made at the altar to ancestors. These are things that the Kinh believe will cleanse the system. Women make sticky rice and then add yeast. Over the next few days it ferments waiting for the special day. The fermented rice is thought to get the parasites drunk while the fruits are sour. A combination of the two kill the parasites.
Another tradition is to dye the fingernails a beautiful red colour. Parasites on fingernails are killed as a result. The red dye is left on the fingernails so if you see red fingernails while you are travelling in Vietnam with kids, you know why.