A Vietnamese New Year’s Legend
Long ago in Vietnam, there was a prince named An-Tiem. He lived his life by dancing to his own heartbeat. At first, his stern father valued this quality in his son. But as An-Tiem grew older, the king was angered by his child’s singular way of living. The tides of favor finally turned against the young man when he violated one of his father’s decrees. An-Tiem was banished from his homeland.
The prince was sent to live all alone on a deserted island. He was given nothing for his survival except for crude tools.
Surrounded by sea and solitude, his spirit wasn’t dampened. He built a shelter. He found a freshwater spring for water. An-Tiem hunted and fished. Somehow, he survived the first season of exile.
But when the hot season came, the tides once again turned against him. The freshwater spring ran to a trickle. He was careful to drink only a little everyday so that the animals on the island might also survive.
One sweltering day, he came upon a great, green object on a vine. It was a plant he had never seen before. Ever curious, An-Tiem broke it in two. When he saw what was inside, he instinctively dropped it and jumped back. The flesh of the wet fruit was bright red. Red meant anger. Red meant poison.
But the sun’s heat pressed hard upon him. The spring was almost dry. An-Tiem’s heart and mind whispered, “You are not likely to survive the season, what can you lose?” So he picked up one half of the fruit and bit into it.
The wonderful fruit was sweeter than any he had ever tasted. Juice ran down his chin and moistened his parched throat. For the first time in his life, An-Tiem tasted watermelon.
He found other plants just like it. All through that season, he ate the fruit and planted its seeds. He survived.
In time, fisherman found his island. They traded with him for the strange, new fruit. Soon, his watermelons were sold on other islands. The fruit grew in popularity in his home country. By farming watermelons and trading with fishermen, An-Tiem began to prosper.
One day, An-Tiem carved his name into a watermelon and tossed it out to sea. It washed up in Vietnam and was immediately brought to the King.
The King had grown to love the sweetness of the strange fruit. So singular. So unique. So like his lost son. As he gazed at the name in the carved melon, he learned that his son was a young man with the heart and wits to not only survive, but to thrive.
This knowledge changed the King’s heart. He welcomed An-Tiem back home and immediately passed the crown to him. That is how An-Tiem became King Hung Vuong VI. It is said that he ruled Vietnam with the sweetness and resolve that comes from following both heart and mind.
Ever since that time, the watermelon has been considered a good luck symbol in Vietnam and is often given as a New Year’s gift. Please accept this watermelon story as my New Year’s gift: May your new year be filled with sweetness, luck, and the resolve to live your life while dancing to your own heartbeat.