Tet Nguyen Dan (Vietnamese New Year)
is the Vietnamese traditional celebration to welcome in the New Year and the arrival of spring.
The name Tet Nguyen Dan, or Tet as it is more commonly known, literally translates to the first morning of the first day of the new period. It officially marks the beginning of the New Year and takes places on the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar.
Throughout history, the Vietnamese people have had a strong affinity with the land and food as farmers and fisherman. For many villagers, Tet marks the communion of man with nature, the rebirth of a new year with the universal renewal that comes with the dawning of spring.
Drums, gongs, and firecrackers are popular choices and can be heard throughout every neighborhood.
Preparing for the Vietnamese New Year
Since Tet is deeply tied to the Vietnamese religious beliefs
, preparations begin some weeks in advance of the New Year. Similar to many other Asian New Year traditions, people clean and decorate their shops and homes in an effort to get rid of any bad luck from the previous year. In addition, any debts should be paid off to welcome the New Year with a clean slate.
On the 23rd day of the twelfth lunar month it is said that the three kitchen guardians (known as Tao Quan) ascend to the heavens to report to the Jade Emperor on the events of the house over the past year.
Special attention is given to the ancestral altar that is carefully decorated with a tray of five different fruits called "Mam Ngu Qua," along with joss sticks and other offerings. These offerings are assembled in the hope of a favorable report to ensure good luck for the family.
Essential Food and Flowers
Markets are packed with people stocking up on goods since most shops will be closed over the Tet holiday. This is a busy period in the family home dedicated to cooking the many special holiday delicacies such as Banh Chung
(steamed sticky rice cake wrapped in banana leaves, an essential element of the family altar during Tet), Gio Cha (Vietnamese sausage), Xoi (sticky rice) and Thit Ga (boiled chicken) among other tasty foods.
During this time it is common to see motorbikes carrying kumquat trees whizzing by, which will be placed in someone's home. A good plant must have both ripe and green fruits, mature leaves and a new bud—all of which represent wealth and luck to the family for the Vietnamese New Year.
The streets are filled with colorful flowers, with displays of blossoms throughout the city and the most spectacular reserved for the Tet Flower Market
along the main street of Nguyen Hue. This heavily trafficked street is converted into a temporary garden that is bursting with color and perfume.
Ringing in the New Year
As with many cultures, Vietnamese New Year's Eve is the most celebrated night of the Vietnamese New Year
holiday period. For the Vietnamese this is the night that the Tao Quan are set to return to earth and at the stroke of midnight the problems of the previous year are left behind. The idea is to be to make as much noise as possible. Drums, gongs and firecrackers are popular choices and can be heard throughout every neighborhood.
The first days of the New Year are steeped in tradition. The transition between the old year and the new is a ritual unto itself. The first day is to be spent with one's immediate family. Children wear their newly purchased clothes and make sure to be on their best behavior in the hope of receiving red envelopes containing money from their elders.
Vietnamese believe that the first visitor will determine their fortune for the entire year. Particular care is taken to arrange in advance to have the visitor be wealthy, good tempered and successful.
Traditional Folk Games
Most of the games played during Tet are centered around obtaining good fortune. Gambling and crossword games are prevalent, and while the games may vary throughout the country here are some of the more popular ones:
Bau Cua Ca Cop
(Gourd, Crab, Fish, Tiger)—
Common in southern Vietnam, this game of luck is played by both adults and children. Players place money bets on a game board containing images of a deer, gourd, crab, shrimp, rooster and fish. Three special dice with images of those six animals are then thrown by the dealer. Players who have bet on the animal that is rolled win. Winnings are doubled or tripled depending on the number of dice showing the same image.
include: Human Chess, Blind Man's Bluff, Tug of War, Bamboo Swing, Wrestling, Coin Toss, Slip Pole Climb, Tend Card Singing, Walking the Bamboo Bridge, and Cockfighting.
Overall, Vietnamese New Year's is an occasion for an entire nation to practice and share in the common ideal of peace and new beginnings.