We wanted to share with you what Tet means to us and to Vietnam.
The complete name of Tet is Tet Nguyen Dan. Nguyen means the beginning and Dan means the morning, and this is the starting point of the new year. This is the foremost opportunity for families, relatives, and villages and to reunite, to celebrate, to congratulate, to commemorate and to pay tribute to our ancestors.
Tet is not a one-day event. Vietnamese people come from all over the country to spend several days with family. In a normal year, even expats will journey thousands of kilometers to return home and reunite under a familiar roof. Tet is a time to pay tribute to ancestors, look back at home and the family and look forward to a new year with creating more loving memories. Going home to celebrate Tet is not just about going home but returning to the source.
New Year’s Day is usually reserved for immediate family and the family of husband’s parents. Children and adults all dress in beautiful clothes and children clasp their hands in front of their chests to respectfully congratulate their elders and wish the health to grandparents and parents.
Then the children unclasp their hands in order to receive red envelopes hopefully filled with new banknotes. The amount may not be much but the luck and encouragement to live harmoniously with those around them is invaluable. This is the true gift of the red envelope.
Visiting or receiving close friends or the wife’s family happens on the second day of Tet. Food is always present as are the red envelopes and heartfelt greetings.
Teachers, neighbors, friends, and others are the focus of the third day of Tet. It is a visiting day and sometimes can even involve group visits to special teachers. Energy must be conserved, and stomachs left empty in order to have a special evening meal to bring ancestors back to heaven and also to burn votive paper to send them to heaven with a little money.
Some of the special Tet traditions are:
1/ On 23rd December in the Lunar Calendar, families offer foods and three live fish to bring the Land and Kitchen Gods back to heaven. The gods need a way to get to heaven, so the three fish are released into the river and take the gods to heaven.
2/ Buying Red or Yellow flowers
Peach blossoms are essential for Tet. Tet In addition expelling demons, their color and beauty bring warmth, joy, love, and faith for a good new year.
3/ Cooking Square cake (Banh Chung) and many traditional Vietnamese foods:
Bang Chung is made from rice, beans, pork, and other ingredients and wrapped in green leaves. While different people prepare it differently, almost every variation will have the above ingredients. This food originates from many hundreds of years ago and the main ingredients have specific meanings. Leaves represent grass, the beans symbolize delicious, sweet fruits, pork represents animals, the sticky rice is civilization. People can eat Banh Chung throughout the year, but it is a special Tet food and prevalent at this time. It is one of the enduring images and customs of Tet and occupies a special place in the Vietnamese mind. The tradition is passed from parents to children and will endure well into the future. It is a common Tet gift and passes along good fortune and harmony among its givers and recipients. Besides this square cake, Vietnamese enjoy many great homemade foods during Tet including but not limited to pork caramel, salad, spring rolls and boiled, fresh chicken.
4/ Payment of old debts before Tet.
Not wanting to face a new year with debt, Vietnamese use Tet to settle these debts. Letting a debt persist through the new year will bring more bad luck, loss of wealth and possibly even more debt.
5/ The Makeover
In order to accrue more luck in the New Year, it is good to refresh one’s appearance. A haircut and possibly even a new hairstyle, new or newly painted nails and of course new clothes. Red, yellow, and blue clothes are particularly good at attracting prosperity and good fortune. Tradition is not cast aside, however. You will still see colorful Ao Dai’s filling streets throughout Vietnam.
5/ Clean & Decorate House
Cleaning house is a chore. On the few last days of the old year, it becomes a special chore. It is time to clean houses, gardens and altars and bring in peach and kumquat trees, flowers, balloons, and the like to welcome the new year and of course attract more good luck.
One quick note. Tet is an amazing family time but not always the best time to travel to Vietnam because many things are closed as people have retreated to their homes.