Article by Pham Thi Van Anh (Vietnam)
Blog Correspondent of ASEAN-Korea Centre
Customs come from traditions passed from generation to generation and have become standard. Because of the idea that the beginning will affect the middle and the end of the year, Vietnamese people avoid doing bad things and try to do good things during Tết holiday.
One should give people lucky presents to enhance the relationship between themselves and others: new clothes, peach branches (for expelling evil), cocks/chickens (wishing for good manners), new rice (wishing for being well-fed), rice wine in a gourd (wishing for a rich and comfortable life), bánh chưng (or bánh tét) and bánh dày which symbolize sky and earth (for worshipping the ancestors), red things (red symbolizes happiness, luckiness, advantages) like watermelon, dogs (the bark – gâu gâu – sounds like the word giàu – richness in Vietnamese language), medicated oil (dầu in Vietnamese, also sounds similar to giàu).
One should give lucky Dong Ho Paintings such as: “Gà đàn” (wishing for having many children), or “Vinh hoa”, but should not give unlucky Dong Ho paintings like “Đánh ghen” related to legal proceedings.
One should sprinkle lime powder around the house to expel evil.
One should return all things borrowed, and pay debts before Tết.
One shouldn’t say or do bad things during the New Year holidays.
One shouldn’t hurt or kill animals or plants but should set them free. The reason for this originates from Buddhism’s causality.
One shouldn’t sweep the house or empty out the rubbish to avoid luck and benefits going with it, especially on the first day of the New Year. One shouldn’t let the broom in confusion if people don’t want it to be stolen.
One shouldn’t give these presents to others: clock or watch (the recipient’s time is going to pass), cats (mèo in Vietnamese language pronounced like nghèo, poverty), medicine (the receiver will get ill), cuttle fish (its ink is black, an unlucky colour), writing ink (for the same reason), scissors or knives (they bring incompatibility).
One shouldn’t have duck meat because it brings unluckiness.
One shouldn’t have shrimp in case one would move backwards like shrimp, in other words, one would not succeed.
One shouldn’t buy or wear white clothes because white is the colour of funerals in Vietnam.
One shouldn’t let the rice-hulling mill go empty because it symbolizes failed crops.
One shouldn’t refuse anything others give or wish you during Tết.
Clean and decorate the home
Homes are often cleaned and decorated before New Year’s Eve. Children are in charge of sweeping and scrubbing the floor. The kitchen needs to be cleaned before the 23rd night of the last month. Usually, the head of the household cleans the dust and ashes (from incense) from the ancestral altars. It is a common belief that cleaning the house will get rid of the bad fortunes associated with the old year. Some people would paint their house and decorate with festive items.
There are some greetings that Vietnamese people usually say and greet to others such as the traditional greetings are “chúc mừng năm mới” (Happy New Year) and “cung chúc tân xuân” (gracious wishes of the new spring). People also wish each other prosperity and luck. Common wishes for Tết include:
Sống lâu trăm tuổi (Long life of 100 years): used by children for elders. Traditionally, everyone is one year older on Tết, so children would wish their grandparents health and longevity in exchange for mừng tuổi.
An khang thịnh vượng (Security, good health, and prosperity)
Vạn sự như ý (May myriad things go according to your will)
Sức khoẻ dồi dào (Plenty of health)
Cung hỉ phát tài, from the Cantonese (Congratulations and be prosperous)
Tiền vô như nước (May money flow in like water): used informally