Many of you must be so familiar with the term “Chinese New Year”, or “Lunar New Year” in non-Chinese countries. It is time to test your knowledge about this phenomenal occasion by paying a close attention to one of the most popular Asian countries in their New Year celebration. Here introduce Vietnam’s Tết – Lunar New Year and how the Vietnamese hold their major holidays in Vietnam during this time.
A Vietnamese family enjoying Tết (Source: Google)
I. What is “Tết” and its origin?
What does “Tết” actually mean?
The word “Tết” derives from “Tiết”, a “Section of time” in the ancient mindset of Vietnamese. Hence, in Vietnam, Tết is used as an abbreviation for “Lunar New Year”.
In the Han Chinese language, their “Chinese New Year” is named as Chun Jie (Spring Festival). Meanwhile, Mongols refer to the occasion as Tsagaan, or “White Moon”, Seollal as “The First Day of Lunar Year” by Korean and Shougatsu for “The First Days of Holidays” by the Japanese.
When to welcome the Vietnamese Lunar New Year?
As born based on the movement of the Moon, or Lunar Calendar, Vietnamese’s Tết always occurs no earlier than Solar New Year. The first day of a Lunar Year never happens before the 21st of Solar January and after the 20th of Solar February but in between those days.
Lunar New Year (Source: Google)
The entire festive season usually lasts for 14-15 days, with Tết Ông Táo (Day of the Kitchen Gods) falling during the first half (on the 23rd of Lunar December) and the 3 days of New Year falling during the second half.
When does the Vietnamese Lunar New Year take root?
Here comes a shocking fact about a cultural thing you refer to as “Chinese New Year” for long! There is no such thing like “Chinese New Year” in Vietnam. Instead, “Lunar New Year” is a proper term you should “quote” when talking about this biggest event in this East Asian country.
Wet rice civilization (Source: Google)
Why is that? This confusing story takes root from the disparity between two big ancient communities living on the current mainland China. These were Northern Mongoloid race (Chinese Han) conquering the Golden River (Red River) Valley, and Southern Mongoloid race (Baiyue, or Hundred Yue) taking over the Yangtze River sub-region.
Those Southern tribes and rustic kingdoms were then named as Baiyue on the whole, which is literally translated into “Bách Việt” nowadays. Baiyue was used categorizing the communities that were not “Chinese localized”.
Map of ancient China (Source: Google)
Their Southern initial topography was claimed to consist of the “Liangguang” (The Two Guang provinces) localities made up by Guangdong and Guangxi provinces in current Southern China, along with Northern Vietnam in between the 1st millennium BC and the 1st millennium.
A majority of those groups followed agriculture as their main industry or the wet rice civilization. The acculturation was processed by the Baiyue based on the use of the Lunar Calendar, or the operation and movement of the Moon.
Vietnamese ladies in history (Source: Google)
As a consequence, Lunar New Year was then preserved by the ancient Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and other nations in which the Chinese are settling down for the time being.
Lunar Moon (Source: Google)
As an outcome of numerous special features regarding climate condition and terrain, the original economy taken by the Han Chinese was a nomad, while the Baiyue (ancient Vietnamese) adopted wet rice agriculture and hence used the Moon as their sign to control the movement of water.
The end of a lunar year marks a big break after a hard-working procedure of the Việt working on the fields. The term “Lunar New Year” or “Wet Rice New Year” was then born.
II. A look into an entire section of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year
A busy daily vibe before Tết arrives
Making traditional cakes (Source: Google)
Two weeks before Tết, all families flock to get their chores done, which include decoration and needed ceremonies. Most of the Vietnamese rush to look for suitable paintings, incense sticks, joss paper, candies, jams, fruits, and a lot more to decorate the house and altars.
An old calligrapher (Source: Google)
The calligraphers gather in the markets to give out blessed paralleled sentences. All family members and relatives commute back home for the greatest reunion of the year.
Trading flowers from a river (Source: Google)
Until a couple of days before New Year’s Eve, Vietnamese start their busiest days in the year by all cleaning up the houses and worshipping furnishings or items. Pieces of red paper are hung up on the walls and pillars, alongside gorgeous paintings.
Purchasing Tết ornaments (Source: Google)
During the days of the 28th, 29th, and 30th of Lunar December, many families, and households even prepare for the making of traditional Chưng and Tét cakes, some types of sticky rice cakes stuffed with pork and mung bean for an entire night.
House decoration (Source: Google)
How do the Việt have fun during this special moment?
1. First footing
“Xông Đất” is a Vietnamese term relating to the act of “First footing” that has been preserved for thousands of years. Believe it or not, Vietnamese strongly assume their destiny in the whole year to be counted on the first person who visits the family on the first Lunar day.
First footers (Source: Google)
First footing time officially starts right after New Year’s Eve. The first footers are those carefully considered by the hosts, with a view to bringing good luck to the families. Traditionally, first-footers are supposed to stay no longer than 10 minutes. The visit surrounds blessings and good luck prayers.
Family reunion (Source: Google)
2. Visiting pagodas
The Việt believe that a visit to Buddhist temples is not only for praying but for a chance to blend in a religious and holy atmosphere, just to leave behind the hardships and bad luck in the previous year.
Visiting a pagoda (Source: Google)
3. Blessing the old
When Tết is seen as one of the hugest major holidays in Vietnam, young members of the family share a tradition to give blessings to the elders, which in return, children would be receiving “Lì Xì”, a kind of lucky money contained in red envelopes.
Blessing the old (Source: Google)
When the initial meaning of giving red envelopes was to chase off evil spirits or bad lucks, the current belief of such as is to spread good lucks, and good wishes for reunions in a new year.
4. Dressing up with new clothes
Apart from the purpose of putting on newly-bought outfits to welcome guests and visitors, dressing up with new clothes also brings a wish to have a lot more luck and new developments coming in the year ahead.
Welcoming New Year (Source: Google)
When Tết comes, all Vietnamese must ensure to put on stunning and vivid clothes which consist of happy colors such as red or yellow, while getting rid of dark hues such as grey or black.
Big major holidays in Vietnam during Tết
Coming along with Tết, there exists a wide range of major holidays in all three main regions of the country. Some of the most iconic occasion could be listed as the Lim Festival, Yên Tử Monastery Pilgrimage Festival or Perfume Pagoda in Northern Vietnam.
A big ceremony at a pagoda (Source: Google)
Meanwhile, in the Southern land, the two biggest Spring events are the Black Virgin Mountain Spring Pilgrimage and the Festival of Holy Mother of the Realm. Apparently, when traveling to different corners up and down the length of Vietnam during Tết, you would be able to observe a lot more other splendid Spring occasions and events in the far-away hilly cities performed by the ethnic communities.
A Dragon dance (Source: Google)
A lively springtime scene
1. Spring blossoms and floras
The stunning yellow of each apricot blossom petal represents for wealth and prosperity.
Yellow petals (Source: Google)
If Southern Vietnam weather is good for the development of apricot blossoms, then Northern Vietnam is a perfect region for the pinkish peach blossom with cold weather. Not only do they chase away evil spirits, but also bring in a new vitality that helps families stay healthy in a whole year.
Peach blossoms (Source: Google)
Kumquat trees are an icon for prosperity and a rich harvest, which accordingly attracts good luck and a fine kick-start of a new year.
A kumquat tree (Source: Google)
As a matter of Fengshui, Chrysanthemums are a symbol of life, vitality, blessing, and happiness.
Golden carpet (Source: Google)
Fig is a flora species that is easy to plant and grow. Picking a good-shaped fig tree filled with fruits to display in the middle of the living room brings in richness and blessing for the hosts.
A fig tree (Source: Google)
2. Traditional Cakes
Chưng Cake – Tét Cake
The very first names to be recalled are the most popular icons of Tết gastronomy, the square Chưng cake and the round Tét cake. The shapes of the two cakes represent for the harmony of the universe.
Traditional cakes (Source: Google)
The main ingredients include sticky rice grains, fatty pork, mung bean and some of the other additives. While Chưng cake is the icon of the Northern land, Tét is a must-have cuisine in the New Year meals of Southern Vietnamese.
Vietnamese snowflake mung bean cake
“Bánh In”, or “Vietnamese snowflake mung bean cake” is an exotic Tết cuisine in Vietnam’s ancient capital, Huế. Bánh In is made of sticky rice, mung bean, tapioca powder while shaped in different frames carved with numerous shapes and words, such as wealth, longevity and happiness.
Snowflake mung bean cakes (Source: Google)
The cake was initially offered to the King during Lunar New Year. They are supposed to carry a lot of nutrition and representing as a type of blessing to the royal family.
Mung bean cakes
Last but not least, the green bean cake is a simple and ordinary gastronomy creation in Hải Dương Province. When Tết arrives, dwellers in the Red River Delta make green bean cakes as an offering to visitors and guests.
Green bean cakes (Source: Google)
The mung bean cake was once made an offering to King Bảo Đại during his trip to Hải Dương. Such tender sweetness and lovely little shape showcase the cleverness of the artisans.
A different version (Source: Google)
As Tết is seen one of the major holidays in Vietnam, it is time to break down the myth behind what we call “Chinese New Year” over time, while crawling into the intricate procedure behind the celebration of Vietnam Lunar New Year.