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TET HOLIDAY – Lunar calendar New Year

December 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Tết or Tết Nguyên Đán (in Vietnamese) is the most important holiday of Vietnamese culture and for other countries that were affected by Chinese culture. In English, it means “the time that starts a new day” or more commonly called “Chinese New Year”. Countries like Vietnam and China are still using the Lunar Calendar and Tet holidays are between the 21st January and the 19th February (ac

cording to the Western Calendar). Traditionally, Tet holiday is celebrated for the last 7 or 8 days of an old year and the first 7 days of a new year.

Origin of the name:

Tet has same sound with Tiet (seasonal segment – 15 days period). In Agricultural countries, a year is divided into 24 segments of weather and the most important is the first segment which, later on is called Tet.

During the history, different dynasties have different times of the year for Tet. Until 140 years BC, Tet was set on the first month in Lunar Calendar and remains until nowadays.

Before 1967, Vietnam used Beijing time but on 8th August, 1967, The

Democratic Republic of Vietnam

(North Vietnam during Vietnam War), changed to GMT + 7. Therefore, in 1968, the North and South Vietnam had different date for Tet (29th January in the North and 30th January in the South).

Tet concept:

Vietnamese believe that everything must be new or renewed during Tet. From objects to people’s thinking and that’s why they repaint or clean up their house several days before Tet so everything inside will be new and clean. They also make new cloth for Tet. I can remember vividly how happy I was before Tet when I was a kid. At that time (subsidise time (rationing) –

before 1986) everybody was allowed to have 4 square meters of cloth and we always saved it for Tet. Kids loved new clothes for Tet. During Tet, Vietnamese try not to be angry or argue (we, kids, could be naughty without being punished). It’s also the time be tolerant of people’s mistakes with each other. They visit relative’s and friend’s homes and give each other meaningful wishes. Children were given “Red pocket money” for them to spend during Tet.

Shopping for Tet:

Mam_ngu_Qua

Tet Markets are usually from 25th to 30th of December (Lunar Calendar).

Nowadays in the big cities, it is usually from 18th or 20th. They mostly sell things for Tet preparation like phrynium leaves (a tropical plant) and sticky rice for “chưng“cake, rooster and fruits for worshiping ancestors. Most of the sellers will be off during Tet so people need to stock up food for several days before. Tet Holiday is full of parties, eating and drinking for 4 or 5 days so we need a lot of food. My mom usually buys 5 chickens, a few kilos of beef and pork as well as a lot of fruits for Tet. Especially as everything is more expen

sive during Tet like, vegetables which are around 4 or 5 times more expensive than normal day

s. Tet Markets are also good for entertaining, browsing around thousands of things for sale especially flowers and pottery markets.

Cleaning up and decorations:

5-fruits plate:

5-fruits plate consists of 5 different kinds of fruits with different colors that Vietnamese put on the altar for worshiping ancestors and Gods. In the North, they are: a bunch of bananas, red chili (not the spicy ones), pommello, Cumquat and pear. They can be replaced with oranges (green ones) or sapodilla. A bunch of bananas with pommello inside means protection. Traditionally, 5 kinds of fruit are symbols for 5 elements (metal, water, wood, fire and earth) and an odd number means developing and growing.

In the South, they are coconut, papaya, custard-apple, fig and mango which homonym to comfortable and enough money to spend.

Tet pole:

Tet pole is made from bamboo and about 5 – 6 meters high. They hang on top of it many things (regional): votive paper, against evil talisman, paper fish (for the Kitchen God to ride to Heaven), red paper and musical stones. When the wind blows, they bump against each other which make really good sounds. They believe that all decorations on the Tet pole, together with the sound of musical stones, will let evil and ghosts know that it is private property and not to disturb. At night, they hang lanterns on Tet poles so their ancestors know the way home for Tet, on New Years Eve, they burn fire crackers and welcome the new year and to scare evil and ghosts away. Tet pole is set up on the 23rd of December and taken away on 7th of January (Lunar Calendar).Due to lack of space, Tet poles can only be seen in countryside not in cities.

Tet paintings

Behind the altar and 5-fruit plate, traditionally was Tet paintings. It’s a picture of 5-fruits plate or a Chinese character. “Tâm” means good heart, “Phúc” means happiness, “Đức” means virtue and It’s a long tradition that everybody, despite being rich or poor, can have a Tet painting. It’s very colorful which gives people the feeling of happiness and warmth inside Vietnamese home.

Flower for Tet

Apart from 2 main kinds, peach blossom and apricot blossom, Vietnamese use some other types for worshipping and decoration. Worship flowers can be marigolds, daisies, gladioli’s, tuber rose and they use colorful flowers for decoration. Roses, carnations and madonna lilies which altogether symbolize family members getting together. Bright colors also carry their wish for a year of prosperity and happiness. Weather in Vietnam is different from North to South (cold in the North and hot in the South) so they use peach blossom in the North and apricot blossom in the South and people in both parts of the country can also use the cumquat tree for Tet.

Last days of the year

Kitchen Gods’ day

Kitchen Gods’ day is on 23rd December (Lunar Calendar). According to Vietnamese, kitchen Gods take note of what people do during the year, good and bad and make report to the Jade Emperor. The ritual offerings will have incense, candle, paper money, 2 men’s hats and 1 woman’s hat and 3 fish (they will ride the fish to haven). Funnily, they wear long dress with short pants.

Making “chưng” cake

“Chưng” cake is a traditional food in a square shape made from sticky rice, pork and bean wrapped with phrynium leaves. It takes 12 hours to cook it. After being cooked, when you open the leaves, it is a square green cake. It symbols for Earth. Pork inside symbols for animals, green beans symbols for plants and they believed that the earth was flat. During subsidized (rationing) time (before 1986) Tet is the most respected time of the year and maybe it’s the only time for some families to have meat. They save all year for Tet (my family have 4 members, we only had 1 kilo of pork in a month and we had double for Tet).

New Year’s Eve

Vietnamese will prepare 2 altars, one indoors, the other is out doors. They will start the outdoors at 12 o’clock midnight at the entrance door. They offer votive paper, fruits, “chưng” cake and incense. They send their appreciation to the Gods for a good year and ask for a better one. They also ask their ancestors to come back home to have Tet with family members. After that, all members will get together and give wishes to each other. Nowadays, there are fire works in all capital cities of a province.

First days of a year

The 1st: They will carefully choose the 1st caller of a year. That person must have a compatible age with the owner. They rarely go out and stay at home to prepare for New Year worship. Children will visit their parents if they don’t stay with them and later on, they will visit their relatives (usually after lunch). The following days will be for visiting family and friends, giving them wishes for a new year.

Traditionally, 1st day is visiting Father, 2nd is for Mother (also include the Out-laws – for men only) and 3rd day is for your teacher.

They will choose a good day to start their business. They usually look for, in their neighborhood, some one who always smiles is active or successful in their own business to be the 1st caller. The caller will be happy as he or she already does a good thing and the owner will have more belief of a better year. They also go to a Pagoda, even if you never go there during the year, to burn incense or to give donations.

Beliefs

  • A strange dog goes to your house it will bring good luck.
  • They don’t like any body that comes and asks for fire on the 1st day. Fire is red which means luck. Giving fire or any thing in red color means giving your luck away, except for giving “red pocket money” to kids as it is like giving luck to them.
  • They don’t like to give water away as water means good fortune.
  • They don’t sweep the floor as they will get bad luck in business. When you throw rubbish away, the god of fortune will follow.
  • Whatever you do in New Year days, it will repeat for the whole year. They let others borrow money.
  • They will have bad luck if they eat dog meat, duck or squid.
  • They try to be happy and not to say bad luck things during Tet.
  • They don’t visit their friends on the 1st just in case they are the 1st caller.
  • They explode fire crackers to scare away evil and ghosts. From 1994, the Government prohibited exploding fire crackers. In my personal opinion, Tet is not the same without fire crackers.
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