The lunar calendar in Vietnam is like in other countries here in South East Asia based on the regular changing phases of the moon. Resulting from this fact, the date of the Lunar New Year (Tet) varies from year to year. This year it falls on January 23.
Each Lunar year is represented by one of twelve zodiac animals: rat, buffalo, tiger, cat, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and lastly the pig. Of this entire animals only one is mythical – the dragon.
2012 will be the year of the dragon. As the dragon is an imperial symbol it is magnificent. Those born in a dragon year are said to be innovative, self-assured, brave, enterprising, passionate and as well quick-tempered.
This Festival is the most important occasion of the year for Vietnamese people. At this time everybody returns home and stays with family. Vietnam has its own special Tet customs, which have developed through the history.
In the days which are now leading up to the Festival, at least one week before the actual celebration is getting more and more bustling. People decorate homes, cook traditional food and prepare everything for the relatives to return to their home. Shopping and stocking up, as most of the shops will be closed is a great idea in this time of year.
This is as well a time to cleanse, paying off debts before the new year, buying new clothes for children to wear on Tet, styling your hair and replacing old things with new to welcome the New Year.
Decorations will be put up everywhere. Various kinds of flowers and fruit are put in the house as a welcoming sign for the New Year. In the south you might see a lot of hoa mai (apricot) and in the north hoa dao (peach) blossoms, flowers, which are symbols of spiritual blessing. Most decorations are in red - the color of good luck.
In the overall believe the Kitchen God reports on the 23rd day of the twelth lunar month to the Jade Emperor about all of mankind’s behavior on Earth. This is the time for ritual offerings as a farewell to the Kitchen God in order to remind the creators that people are good and kind.
In between the 23rd and 30th day of the twelth lunar month the gravesites are cleaned and decorated. At Giao thua (New Year’s Eve) the crossing between the old and the new year is celebrated with ritual offerings, wishes are sent to grandparents and parents for this festive moment.
The first visitor of the New Year is considered to be of great importance as he can bring either good fortune or bad luck for the whole year. Selecting the right visitor is therefore quite important and depends on factors like age, business experience, luck, general happiness and so on.
Li Xi money is a red envelope filled with a small amount of “lucky money” that is given to children and unmarried adult children. This is given as an exchange signifying the giver’s wish that the recipients have good luck in their life.
Since the first three days of Tet are seen as influencing the rest of the year’s luck, people are very careful in what the say and do. There are some taboos at this time of the year like:
- · No cleaning. Sweeping dust out of the threshold means sweeping out luck and money.
- · No gifts of medicine or sharp things. Such a present might bring disaster to the home.
- · No bad or sad words, no crying. Otherwise this might be ominous for the whole year.
- · No breaking of dishes or mirrors. This might symbolize a fracture in family relations.
- · No dressing in white or black, which is a sign of death and mourning.
- · No refusing anything that others give or wish you during Tet.
Tet is as well a time of eating. There are dishes that are eaten all year round but there are some delicacies that are only eaten during Tet. Traditional Tet food includes:
- Banh Chung – boiled rice and pork cakes
- Canh Mang – dried bamboo shoot soup
- Hanh Muoi – pickled onions
- Canh Bong – dried pig skin soup
- Mien – vermicelli noodles
- Xoi gac – steamed bitter melon glutinous rice
- Ga ran or ga luoc – fried or boiled chicken
- Che kho – soft green bean cake
- Mut – preserved fruit
So enjoy the upcoming festivities and welcome the year of the dragon!