The first visitor of the new year is very important to Vietnamese because they he or she is believed to decide the luck of the host for the entire year. Traditionally, the visitor is a member of the family or a good friend. Now a new service, rent a first visitor, has emerged to carry on the custom.
According to historian Le Van Lan, as the nation's economy depends so much on farming, the earth was very important. Xong dat, (first visit to a land) custom has its roots in this belief.
It is thought that if the land is good, the house is built on it is good and the family who lives on it will have good luck. The custom is also an occasion for people "to show love back to Mother Land," Lan said.
However, as agriculture is gradually replacing industry, more and more companies are born and along with them, the new Xong dat service. People not only need to have Xong dat for their homes, but also for their shops, stores, or companies.
Dang Thanh Hoa, one of the founders of the Hoa Da company that provides the Xong dat service said their company had stopped accepting orders even though it's still more than two weeks until Tet.
"We started providing this service last year. But this year, it has become much more popular. We have had an overwhelming number of orders this year, so we stopped taking orders," she said.
Hoa's company offers different packages of Xong dat. Customers can choose to have men dress up as one or all of the three prosperity gods, Phuc, Loc and Tho (Happiness, Wealth and Longevity) and pay a visit on New Year's eve.
The package includes visiting the family, presenting New Year's gifts and New Year's wishes or poems to the family, opening champagne and singing New Year's songs with the host. Prices vary from 250,000 to 600,000 VND (12-30 USD).
Businesses are the most common customers, Hoa said. "Many company owners came to us because they want to provide some fun for their employees at New Year."
Nguyen Thanh Manh, owner of Thanh Manh Employment Service Company, said he had hired the xong dat service for the last two years. Last year, his company chose a female and a male student.
"I wanted to have both male and female because they created a balance of yin-yang and would bring good luck," Hoang said. "It didn't cost much and our company had a good time."
Xong dat services are also offered on internet blogs or through text messages. A person named Phong left a message on a blog saying "My name is Phong. I was born in 1993 so I'm a Rooster and I'm perfect for the coming Cat Year (Rabbit Year in Chinese). I'm also a Libra, which will bring you peace and balance."
Phong said he and 15 friends, who are all college students, started the service hoping to earn some money and have fun during Tet.
The Xong dat custom originally aimed to show one's love for the earth. It is a sacred connection and can't be turned into a service, said historian Lan. "Traditionally, the person who is the first visitor of the house must have a pure soul and be genuine. It should be someone from your family," he added.
In Lan's family, his son is always the one who does it.
Huu Ho, a popular fortune teller agrees with Lan, saying that if the visitor was from the family or a friend, it would bring better luck than from a stranger.
However, he agreed that for companies, the service would not hurt if the companies could find a person with good astrology signs. "They can bring good luck too, Ho said."