Article by Pham Thi Van Anh (Vietnam)
Blog Correspondent of ASEAN-Korea Centre
“Tet” means the first morning of the New Year in Vietnamese language and “Nguyen dan” is the popular name for the Vietnamese New Year. “Nguyen dan” begins on the first day of the first lunar month and lasts for seven days. It marks the arrival of spring and is the greatest celebration time as the festival brings along a few breaks in the agricultural year. Vietnamese New Year falls between the period of harvesting of crops and the sowing of the crops. Vietnamese New Year is the most important Festival of the Vietnamese people. When spring arrives, all Vietnamese are thrilled by the advent of Tet. Wherever we may be, we feel an immense nostalgia, wishing to come back to our homeland for a family reunion and a taste of the particular flavors of the Vietnamese festivities. This scared Festival occurs sometime between late January or early February, depending on Lunar Calendar. Although officially a three-day affair, festivities may continue for a week or more with every effort made to indulge in eating, drinking, and enjoyable social activities.
The Giao Thua is the most sacred point of time, the passage from the old to the New Year. It is popularly believed that in Heaven there are twelve Highnesses in charge of monitoring and controlling the affairs on earth, each of them taking charge of one year. The giao thua is the moment of seeing off the old chieftain upon the conclusion of his term and welcoming in the new one upon his assumption of office. For this reason, every home makes offerings in the open air to pray for a good new year.
After the giao thua is the start of the New Year with many customs and practices, amusements and entertainment, all of a distinct Vietnamese folk culture. This is a holiday with a distinct traditional culture that is rich in national identity.
Vietnamese are very particular about the New Year traditions and customs. We follow all the customs earnestly and rigidly. Vietnamese believe, on this day our fate and luck for the New Year is determined. Children are told not to cry or fight and people who are in mourning are avoided.
Vietnamese New Year food includes a special rice pudding called “banh chung” prepared beforehand. The pudding contains mung beans and pork. Other New Year delicacies include preserved sweets, chicken, fish, oranges, beef, grapefruits, coconuts and some seasonal fruits. Watermelon is considered the most auspicious fruit of the season as its flesh is red. It dried seeds are also used for various delicacies.
People like to celebrate the first day of the New Year with families and friends. We wear new clothes and children give traditional greetings to our elders before receiving the New Year gifts from us. People with happy experience over the last year are invited as the first person to enter the house. This act is called as “Xong dat” in Vietnamese.
The middle of the day observes an offering to the ancestors of the family on the altar of the household and incense is also burnt. It is performed every day throughout the festival. On the second day of the New Year, people visit our in-laws and other relatives. On the third day, we visit the family of our teachers and some distant relatives.
Above all, the Tet of the New Year is a time for meeting. It is an opportunity for the household genies to meet, those who have helped during the year, namely the Craft Creator, the Land Genie and the Kitchen God. Tet is also an opportunity to invite and welcome deceased ancestors back for a family reunion with their descendants to join the family’s Tet celebrations. Finally, Tet is a good opportunity for family members to meet. This custom has become sacred and secular and, therefore, no matter where we are or whatever the circumstances, family members find ways to come back to meet our loved ones, gather for a dinner of traditional foods.