Parallel Sentences on Tet

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In many Vietnamese families during Tet, you can find two red paper rolls of same length with paint brush words written on hung next to each other. They are called “Câu đối” (Parallel sentences), a traditional beauty of Vietnamese’s literature. The custom of hanging parallel sentences on Tet holiday shows much about Vietnamese’s belief and dignity.  

Parallel sentences has been developed from an old concept in literature of parallelism. Parallelism played an important role in Vietnamese classical literary style. It marks every literary genre from prose to poetry, including a kind of rhymed prose. It entirely governs a particular genre, call parallel sentences. A pair of parallel sentences comprises tow parts, the words of which must stand opposite to one another in the six tones of the Vietnamese language as well as in meaning. In Vietnam in the old days, parallel sentences were composed during meetings between literati, in salons, on the occasion of festivals, weddings, and even funerals. According to the circumstances, their contents might be solemn, laudatory, or mocking.

On New Year’s Day, every home liked to have a pair of parallel sentences composed and written by a scholar on red paper and hung in the place of honor, usually on both sides of the entrance door or of the ancestors’ altar. In Hanoi, during the weeks preceding New Year, Hang Bo Street crew with people coming to buy parallel sentences from calligraphers, whose stalls lined both sides of the street.

Parallel sentences is not just about showing the gratitude of Vietnamese to knowledge and literature, it is also about a belief that it will bring luck to the home throughout the whole year. Its meaningful content can be ones’ motto of life. Though time passes by, this parallel sentences has never faded out its initially beautiful meanings.

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