This is the largest cultural festival of Mong ethnic minority people living mostly in mountainous areas of northern Vietnam.
It is held in early spring to express their gratitude to Heaven and Earth, pray for good luck and happiness in the New Year.
The Gau Tao festival is also a good opportunity for family reunions, traditional games and other activities in preparation for new crops to grow soon.
It often takes place in the first half of the first lunar month, lasting either three days (for three consecutive years) or nine days (every fourth year).
The festival, which encompasses both religious rituals and cultural activities, is celebrated in almost every Mong ethnic commune and district.
It is hosted by a family or a clan, often on a large flat hill in the beautiful landscape of the northern mountains.
A priest selects an appropriate venue for ritual performance and planting of a large apricot tree with colourful decorations called Cay Neu. Two big logs, about 10m high, are also erected to support a jar of wine on a bar spanning their summit.
A person is chosen to plant the Cay Neu at the end of the 12th lunar month and later play the lead in worshiping ancestors and deities and praying for every family or clan’s prosperity and happiness.
When the Cay Neu is planted, everyone knows that the Gau Tao Festival is coming soon.
During the ritual, a priest burns incense and presents offerings to Heaven, Earth, and deities while reciting poetic sermons and local proverbs, before participants are divided into groups of adults and children to party and play folk games.
Young Mong people join music and dance competitions, performing songs written in their ethnic language to the accompaniment of traditional instruments.
At the end of the festival, a ceremony is held to uproot the Cay Neu. Its decorations are brought to the host’s household as a good omen for luck, prosperity and happiness.