"Ducks in a Row" image

On this page two weeks ago, we let you know about one part of the Tết Nguyên Đán (Vietnamese lunar New Year) festivities going on at The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine. However, a date was given for an event that did not match its day of the week.

To make up for our error and to reiterate how kid-friendly (read: fantastical) the legends surrounding the lunar calendar and Tết celebration can be, allow us to pose a question and follow it with the answer: Do you know why ducks sleep standing on one foot?

According to ancient Vietnamese lore, the task Heaven had to contend with in creating the earth and all its creatures was so monumental that one or two errors slipped through. It seems that out of all the ducks now inhabiting the new ponds and marshes, four of the poor fowl were created with only one leg apiece. Needless to say, these four had a lot of trouble getting around, to such an extent that they often went hungry.

Fed up with being unfed, the four ducks put their heads together. They came to the consensus that the thing to do would be to petition Heaven in writing with their complaint. Proper channels were, after all, most often effective. The problem was, not only did they not know where Heaven was, but also, none of the foursome knew how to draft the paperwork. So they found themselves reluctantly turning to the relatively regal rooster, confident in his ability to deal with celestial bureaucracy but worried that the rooster’s poor handwriting (chicken scratches?) would lead to misunderstanding.

Eventually, bearing not only the fresh petition but also a bonus letter of introduction, the rooster had volunteered to write to a minor god whose temple was nearby, the ducks arrived at the temple’s giant door at the moment the god was having a tantrum about his new incense burner having eight legs, twice as many as it needed. Eavesdropping, the four ducks heard the god command an underling to remove the four extra legs at once. One thing led to another, and showing the proper obeisance, the ducks humbly requested that they be granted the four discarded incense-burner legs, if the god was too busy to create natural duck’s legs for them all.

The god laughed. “You are more ostentatious than most ducks, and you don’t even know it. Your request is granted. And be thankful, for my incense burner and its legs are made of pure gold. So I warn you: attach the golden legs to your bodies well and use them in good health, but when you sleep, avoid the greedy glances of thieves, and lift your golden legs into your feathers until morning. You are dismissed.”

The ducks, overjoyed, gladly returned to their lake and faithfully obeyed. And that’s not all. All the other ducks, jealous to know the lucky golden-legged ducks’ secret, imitated their sleeping style, and the tradition has continued to this day.

We admit to a little use of poetic license, but allow the illustration, for questions like that one (Why is the sea salty? Why does the toad croak on rainy days?) will be answered for kids and their caretakers at a brand new play at the Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine (142 Free St.): Wonder Tales of Vietnam opens on Tuesday, December 26 at 4 p.m. and continues with multiple showings through the 7th of January. Tickets are $10, $9 for members.

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