Tet Nguyen Dan - The Vietnamese New Year
Vietnamese Lunar New Year
Chinese New Year vs. Tet Nguyen Dan
Most people are familiar with the Chinese New Year. However, the Lunar New Year is celebrated throughout Asia, with each country bringing its own cultural influence to their celebration. In Vietnam, the first day of the Lunar New Year is called Tet Nguyen Dan which means Feast of the First Morning. The celebration of Tet, as it is commonly called, epitomizes the Vietnamese culture. This is by far one of the most important celebrations in Vietnam.
Tet Nguyen Dan Hoa Mai
Vietnamese New Year - Tet Nguyen Dan
Tet Nguyen Dan, the Vietnamese New year, is celebrated for 7 days. Tet starts with the raising of the Cay Neu, a New Year tree in front of the home. A bamboo pole is often used as a Cay Neu. All the leaves are removed and it is wrapped or decorated with lucky red paper. Legend has it that the color red scares off evil spirits. The raising of the Cay Neu marks the end of preparations and the beginning of Tet. The New Year tree points the way for the ancestor’s spirits who come back to celebrate Tet with the living.
A special ceremony called Le Tru Tich is held at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Firecrackers, gongs and other loud noises are used to usher out the old and welcome in the New Year.
The preparations and celebrations of Tet are very involved and are imbued with symbolism. The Vietnamese regard Tet as one of the most important and popular festivals of the year.
Preparations for Tet begin weeks in advance and can be very meticulous. Homes must be cleaned and painted to get rid of any bad fortune associated with the old year. Everyone gets new clothes and shoes, debts are paid off, if possible, and any differences between family and friends are resolved. Three days worth of food is prepared and children are encouraged to not argue, or cry. The Vietnamese believe that whatever occurs on the first day, sets the tone for what the coming year will bring.
Homes are often decorated with Hoa Mai, a yellow blossom that represents the season of spring as well as happiness. The Vietnamese will refrain from cleaning during Tet because they don’t want to sweep away any good luck.
The week before Tet, families visit the graves of parents and grandparents. Fresh earth is placed on top of the graves and the weeds are removed. Incense is burned to summon the souls of the dead and to encourage them to return and visit the family home.
Vietnam and its Children
Every Vietnamese home has an ancestor altar. During the New Year the altar is decorated with incense, flowers and photographs of deceased relatives. A plate containing five different fruits will be placed on the altar. This plate of fruit represents their desire for a good crop and prosperity in the coming year. The plate of fruits traditionally contains: a bunch of bananas, a grapefruit, “Buddha’s-hand” fruit, a lemon, oranges, tangerines, apples, or persimmons. Only the best looking fruit will be used and is then arranged in a pyramid. A tray full of fruit, coins and a tall vase of blossoms are placed in front of the altar.
Food plays a major role in the Tet celebrations. Tet is a time of excess, one does not “celebrate” Tet, the literal translation is to “eat” Tet. One of the most traditional foods for Tet is the Banh Chung, or sticky rice cake. Banh Chung is made of sticky rice, pork meat and green bean. The ingredients are wrapped inside leaves and tied with bamboo strings, making a perfect square.
Tet is also a time for visiting family and friends. Most Vietnamese will travel back to their family homes to spend Tet with their relatives.
The first day of Tet is reserved for visiting the immediate family. Children usually wear their new clothes and greet their elders the traditional Tet greetings.
The second day of Tet is usually reserved for special guests and close friends to visit, and the third day is for visiting teachers and business associates. The third day is also a day to visit the graves of deceased relatives. The graves are decorated with incense, flowers, and candles. Many Buddhists will go to the Pagoda to pray for a good year. It is considered taboo for anyone who has experienced a recent death in their family to visit anyone else during Tet.
The Vietnamese believe that the first visitor of the New Year will determine their fortune for the coming year. According to Vietnamese tradition, if good things come to the family on the first day of the lunar New Year, the entire year will also be full of blessings. The person invited to be the first to enter a home is usually chosen because of their success in life and their positive attributes.
Not only is Tet the beginning of a New Year, it is also everyone’s birthday. The Vietnamese do not celebrate the exact day they were born. A baby turns one on Tet no matter when he or she was born that year. Children say they were born in the year of the symbol of the lunar calendar for that year. On the first morning of Tet, adults congratulate children on becoming a year older by presenting them with red envelopes that contain “Lucky Money,” or li xi. These envelopes are given to the children by parents, siblings, relatives and close friends.
The last ritual of the Tet celebrations is the ceremonial removal of the Cay Neu.