The most important occasion in a single year of Vietnamese people, Tet Nguyen Dan or Tet celebrations occur mostly in 4 days which is the 30th of the last month and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of the first month in lunar calendar. It is the occasion for a whole family to reunite after a year apart for livelihood, send off the old year and welcome the new year.
Tet is the longest public holiday in Vietnam so if you are in the country for the first time in big cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh this time you will be a bit surprised as you know what? The whole city looks like a dead place, especially in the morning of new year first day. The myth is that most of inhabitants turned back to their hometown.
The preparation for Tet is silently conducted even a month before it, but the breath of Tet usually truly explodes from the 25th of the last month, it’s when peach blossom (in the North), apricot blossom (in the South), kumquat trees, fresh flowers and fruits cover all the streets, its the last phase for local people to buy decorations for the new year.
On the last day, the 30th, at this time most of people are already reunite in their hometown, they do the last cleaning and decoration, stay together to wrap and cook Bánh Chưng or Bánh Tét-a kind of traditional food made from sticky rice, green bean, pork and pepper, wrapped in a kind of leaf called Dong then boiled in many hours. At the end of the day, when the Banh Chung are well cooked, it’s also the time Vietnamese people do the last bathing of the year using the liquid combination from boiled local herbs. It’s believed that the water with scented herbs will wash off every bad lucks of the old year and give them a clean body to welcome a new year ahead.
Next, the dinner, they call it Cỗ Tất Niên, translated as the farewell party for the old year. The whole family spend time together cooking, the food first put on a tray to offer ancestors, when the incense sticks burn out, which is believed to be when the ancestors finish their meals, a person will send the ghost money to the ancestors at the other side of the world by burning it. After finishing all this, the family start enjoying the last dinner of the year.
During the New Year’s Eve, people either stay home to prepare the offering food or go out to shrines, temples and pagoda. When 12AM comes, the whole country is lightened with colorful fireworks, exactly the way Westerners celebrate their New Yerar’s Eve. The entire country are full of laugh and bell sound at this moment.
But unlike the new year in the West which is only 1 night, the celebration lasts at least 4 days. The next day, people will come to visit their relatives. make toasts and offer the old and kids with lucky money in red envelopes. representing the wish of a longevity for the old and being good, quick to grow for the kids. These visits last around 3 days as relatives usually live in a same communities so it takes time to visit all families.
In the past the celebration usually lasts for 1 months, but the busy modern life doesn’t allow that, therefore parties mostly end at the 3rd or 4th depending how long people working far from hometown can stay. At the last day, they also have a party to end the Tet.
Being affected by the modern life, Tet today is much more simple (of course to Vietnamese in particular and Asians in general) but the core value of its never changes. Tet is always the occasion for Vietnamese to reunite with their family after a busy year and visit relatives that they hardly can see on normal days. The things that is never lacked is Banh Chung, Banh Tet, blossom, boiled chicken, incense sticks and ghost money, and the most important, the hearts of Vietnamese.
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