Traditions of Tet, the Vietnamese New Year (Part 1)

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Tet
Tet

1, Overview

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 they may be, they feel an immense nostalgia, wishing to come back to their homeland for afamily reunion and a taste of the particular flavors of the Vietnamese festivities.

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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. It is also a time for family reunions, and for paying respect to ancestors and the elders. Gifts of food are made to friends, neighbors and relatives in the days before Tet.

Vietnamese New Year is the most important Festival of the Vietnamese people.
Vietnamese New Year is the most important Festival of the Vietnamese people.

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 they are or whatever the circumstances, family members find ways to come back to meet their loved ones, gather for a dinner of traditional foods like bánh chung (a square cake made of sticky rice stuffed with beans and pork), mang (a soup of boiled bamboo shoots and flied pork) and xôi g?c (orange sticky rice). This is followed by a visit to the local pagodas.

Everyone is in a rush to get a haircut, buy new clothes, spruce up their homes, visit friends, settle outstanding debts, and stock up on traditional Tet delicacies.
Everyone is in a rush to get a haircut, buy new clothes, spruce up their homes, visit friends, settle outstanding debts, and stock up on traditional Tet delicacies.

Everyone is in a rush to get a haircut, buy new clothes, spruce up their homes, visit friends, settle outstanding debts, and stock up on traditional Tet delicacies. Businesses hang festive red banners which read “Chuc Mung Nam Moi” (Happy New Year) and city streets are festooned with colored lights. Stalls spring up all over town to sell mut (candied fruits and jams), traditional cakes, and fresh fruit and flowers. Certain markets sell nothing but cone-shaped kumquat bushes. Others sell flowering peach trees, symbols of life and good fortune which people bring into their homes to celebrate the coming of spring. As vendors pour into the City with peach trees strapped to their bicycles, the streets look like moving pink forests.

Fruits of Tet: “Mam Ngu Qua”

The "five-fruit tray"
The “five-fruit tray”

The “five-fruit tray” on the ancestral altar during the Tet Holidays symbolizes the admiration and gratitude of the Vietnamese to Heaven and Earth and their ancestors and demonstrates their aspiration for a life of plenty. The five fruits represent the quintessence hope that Heaven and Earth bless humans. It demonstrates a Vietnamese percept of life, “When taking fruit, you should think of the grower”.