The lucky money in the village is not as much as in the city but it is very interesting to receive it.
Tet or the lunar New Year festival arrives at the end of January or early February. Northern Vietnam is entering spring at this time of year, although it remains very cold. But I like it.
I huddled in thick cotton jackets rubbing my hands together to warm ourselves. The drizzle seemed to freeze in the cold. At these moments, nothing was more interesting than sitting together with other members of the family around the kitchen fire to cook Banh Chung (square shaped sticky rice cake).
The animated atmosphere of Tet pervaded the entire last lunar month. Kumquats became yellow on their branches and apricots were about to bloom. My brothers, sisters and I prepared to go back to our home village to celebrate Tet with our grandparents. We didn’t wait for our parents but went immediately when our school Tet holidays began. We hurried to our grandparents’ house on the 27th of the last lunar month.
Then our parents came. Our mother and grandma prepared Tet foods while grandpa and my brothers tidied up the house. We were busy but very happy. My parents always made Banh Chung at Tet. Grandpa said Tet could not last without Banh Chung. He was very skilled in this work.
Grandpa taught us to make Banh Chung in order to understand our traditional Tet and later, to teach the younger generations. As the whole family was involved in making the cake, I did nothing but some odd jobs. I gazed at my grandpa while he skillfully arranging the rice, bean and meat and wrap them up in Dong leaves. After that he tied the cake up with bamboo strips.
The villagers also made Banh Gio, or cake made of glutinous rice flour dipped in lye and grapefruit peel. My grandma said Banh Gio was digestible and good for your health during Tet. She particularly liked it. She taught us to make Banh Gio, but only my elder sister could learn. My sister was very skilled in making Banh Chung and Banh Gio. Meanwhile, I sit next to my grandma and massaged her shoulders. I felt her losing weight and found more wrinkles around her eyes. Each Tet added a year to my grandparents’ age but their hearts became more fervid.
Tet was the family festival when we got together. We stayed with our grand-parents in our home village till the 4thof the first lunar month when we had to go back to school. In those days, there was always a boisterous laughter in my grand-parents’ house. Together, we made Banh Chung and pork paste, while the smaller children played in the yard. In the afternoon, we walked along the wind-swept dyke. In the evening, we sit around the kitchen fire and sang together. Things have changed by the time, but I will remember those happy moments forever.
In the afternoon of the 30th or the last day of the 12th lunar month, my grandma boiled aromatic leaves and asked us to wash our hair. She said the aroma helped us wash out the dirt and feelings of sadness, and relax our mind to welcome the New Year.
After that the whole family enjoyed the year-end meal. On New Year’s Eve, we boiled Banh Chung and played card game. We watched the fire and waited for the bell ringing from our clan’s ancestor-worshipping house. The sound of the bell vibrated through each lane in the village. Then we prayed to our ancestors’ altar and followed our grandpa to the clan’s worshipping house. We watched the fireworks display on the TV, let off our own firecrackers and made our wishes.
On the first three days of the first lunar month, we decked ourselves out in new clothes and followed my parents, uncles and aunties to visit relatives and wish them a happy New Year. We were happy to receive New Year’s wishes and lucky money in red envelops. The lucky money in the village was not as much as in the city but it was very interesting to receive it. This may be because of the cheerful attitude of the children and sincere wishes of rural people.
Another Tet is coming. Things have changed. My brother went to study abroad. My sister has got married. I shall be the eldest child in the family to lead my younger brothers and sisters. I shall have to learn more to teach them as my grandpa said. I wish for a happy New Year for everybody, including my family.