Tet’s all about luck, and new beginnings. Expect to see Vietnamese families spring cleaning their homes, buying new clothes and settling any disputes before the celebrations begin; behaviour and attitude at the start of Tet determines how the rest of the year will follow.
Cities and villages across the country morph into new entities; markets transform into kumquat and peach blossom forests. Avenues and alleyways empty. City dwellers go back to the countryside for this time of reconnection with families, friends and colleagues. Spirits are thanked for having blessed their families during the last year and ancestors are invited to return home.
Enter The Dragon
The celebrations typically last for nine days but will often go on for longer. There are a handful of noteworthy dates to keep in mind. By Dec. 23 on the lunar calendar (or Jan. 16, 2012) the Kitchen God will have left the building, or, more appropriately, the home. Tao Quan flies to the heavens on the back of a fish to report family behaviour to the powers that be. To prepare for his journey, families burn paper fish and money, and some in Hanoi release gold fish or carp into nearby lakes and the Red River.
Like with most calendars, New Year’s Eve (Jan. 22) is when the magic happens. Traditional Tet meals are prepped in the kitchen to welcome the most sacred moment of the holiday — the family’s ancestors enter the home and the New Year commences. An altar is placed in the front of the house with a whole chicken, a plate of salt and a serving of rice to mark the occasion. Families choose one person — often a male — to be the first to enter the house. If the person bears favourable astrological signs and enjoyed good fortune during the year, their passage is believed to transfer luck to the home. Shop owners choose their first customers with equal prudence and consult fortunetellers before selecting a day to re-open after Tet.
Three Days of Tet (Jan. 23 to Jan. 25) are dedicated to spending time with family and friends. On the first day, in accordance with tradition, married couples visit the husband’s parents. During the second, the wife’s family is visited, and some even drop by the homes of their teachers on the third.
Tet officially ends on Jan. 26 but this is flexible — some families conclude celebrations on the third or fifth day. A traditional meal is prepared for the departure of ancestors, who leave the home and continue their journey in the afterlife.
New Year Nibbles
Banh chung: A green, square-shaped sticky rice covered pie a with bean and pork centre, all wrapped in dong leaves. Possibly better fried — just saying
Gio cha: Sausage made from pork or pork skin and wrapped in green leaves
Mut: Sugar coated fruits
Xoi gac: Red sticky rice, coloured by gac fruits — said to be healthy
Hat Dua: Fried watermelon seeds
Canh Mang: Bamboo shoot stew with pig trotters
Rite of passage: The ritual of carefully choosing the first person to enter the house in the New Year is rooted in the xong dat practice, where an individual is selected to touch the soil before a new crop is sown
Back away from the broom: On the first day of Tet, families avoid sweeping or disposing of rubbish as it’s feared that luck and good fortune will be swept out onto the street
Damaged goods: Go ahead, break a glass or two. Such minor incidents are said to be fortuitous
It’s your birthday: You are now one year older. Adults give children lucky money to congratulate them on their ‘birthday’
Seeing red: Red scares away evil spirits at this time of year, so expect to see it everywhere
The dragon: The only mythical creature on the calendar symbolises royalty, prosperity and a whole heap of luck
So not everyone can speak Vietnamese. But whatever you do say this Tet, be sure to say the following (using the correct tones, of course):
Chuc mung nam moi: Happy New Year
Tien vo nhu nuoc: May money flow into your life like water
Van su nhu y: May 10,000 of your wishes come true
Song lau tram tuoi: May you live 100 years (said to the elderly)
Suc khoe doi dao: To good health
Buon may ban dat: Cheers to your business (said to shop owners, and business owners)
Source: The Word/ tuoitrenews