Festival season in northern Vietnam begins with Tết, the Lunar New Year. For the first three months of the Lunar Year many villages throughout the Red River Delta stage their own annual celebrations. The program of events will vary from one village to another, but a section of the festival venue features rows of stalls and booths selling snacks, quick meals, drinks, incense and ritual offerings, decorations, flowers and little colored rice dough figurines mounted on sticks. Called tò he in Vietnamese, they are a specialty of Xuân La village in Phu Xuyên district, west of Hanoi, and their creators travel across the Delta to market them at festivals.
To make tò he, the craftsman prepares the dough by pounding rice into a powder, then mixing it with water into a lump. He boils this for about an hour and applies the colors—black, white, red, pink, purple, yellow and green. He then fashions the dough into the forms of roses and other flowers, various gods, animals like the dragon, lion, buffalo or tiger, tuồng opera characters and quan họ singers in their costumes, generals in full uniform—the full range of traditional imagery. Such figurines are still popular and parents buy them for their children. As a reminder of the day’s re-enactment of a traditional event, they make most appropriate souvenirs.