Tet Nguyen Dan is the most important celebration of Vietnamese culture. Translated to mean “the first morning of the first day,” Tet (in short) is the Vietnamese version of the Lunar New Year and can be considered an all in one festival.
2, Preparing for Tet
A week before Tet …
According to legend, seven days before Tet every year, the Kitchen God returns to Heaven to report to the Jade Emperor on the activities of each household and these report will determine the fate of each household for the coming year.
In preparation for the Kitchen God’s departure, families sometimes place cookies by the fireplace or altar to sweeten the god’s journey in hope of a favorable report that would endow them with fortune and happiness for the coming year.
Upon the departure of the Kitchen God, follows the week long period called “Tat Nien” – (which literally means to extinguish the year). During this time, people celebrate the end of schooling or work activities and many take the opportunity to visit and clean the graves of relatives. Weeds are cleared, incense is burnt and flowers and a fruit tray or Mam Ngu Gua are offered in remembrance and respect for the dead.
By now, the city streets are lined with vendors selling an abundance of fresh fruits and flowers, and colorful decorative paraphernalia. Exuberant shoppers bustle and jostle amidst calls for sales and the familiar tunes of traditional Tet music.
In nearly every household, crucial purchases for Tet include the peach “hoa dao” and kumquat plants. Each of these plants are carefully chosen by discerning shoppers so that the flowers and fruits are prominently displayed, vibrant in color and remain healthy throughout the celebrations.
At home the cooking, decorating and cleaning for Tet heightens. Since it is traditional that all cooking and housework are avoided during the first three days of Tet, many spend Tet Nien preparing Tet delicacies, preening and decorating the houses with symbolic plants such as cay neu, hoa dao and kumquat, and decorative red banners called cau doi in preparation of the arrival of the esteemed guests and relatives during the coming days of celebrations.
The eve of Tet …
The eve of Tet is filled with excitement and anticipation of the New Year. As the clock strikes midnight, the Giao Thua ceremony commences, marking the end of the previous year and the beginning of a new one. At the Buddhist temples, bells ring and prayers are chanted; while at home, families gather to usher in and congratulate each other on the New Year and for turning a year older as Tet also represents a universal birthday to all.
Incense sticks are burnt and prayers are said to welcome family ancestors to join in the feasting and celebration of Tet. In the streets, the air is filled with shouts of cheers andpreviously the explosive sounds of firecrackers.
Tet and subsequent days …
The first day of Tet is probably the most exciting time of the holiday for both adults and children. It signifies a new beginning, cleansing of past misfortunes and hopes for a brighter future.
Since it is believed that the actions that one takes on Tet is consequential to how the rest of the year would unfold, adults and children alike make an effort to be in a jovial mood and avoid negative actions and behaviors towards fellow friends and relatives. Dressed in new attires, family members unite to welcome the most important day of Vietnamese culture with the first of many days of feasting and merry making to come.
Children often eagerly await for Mung Tuoi, a gift giving ritual when parents, grandparents or relatives present gifts of Lixi or “lucky” money in traditional red packet and offer words of wisdom or advice for the coming year.
Visiting relatives and friends is one of the key activities during Tet. The order of visitations depends on your blood relation and your status in society. The first morning of Tet is usually celebrated amongst immediate family members including the husband’s parents and with esteemed guests who are of respectable social status and whose presence are believed to bring luck to the household.
The second day of Tet is generally dedicated to visiting the wife’s parents and extended relatives. By the third day of Tet, people would visit the homes of friends, bosses or colleagues. This is also the day when the spirits of ancestors return to heaven and families would offer gifts of money and luxury goods such as cars and clothing to their deceased relatives by burning miniature paper versions.
Many Buddhists also visit the temples to pray for a safe and happy new year as well as to have their fortunes predicted by the Xin Xam.
In past, the celebrations of Tet would last for one month, however, with economic development and the practicalities of modern daily living, Tet celebrations now officially last for three days.