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TET NGUYEN DAN (LUNAR NEW YEAR)
According to Vietnamese zodiac, this year is the year of the Cock. Of course, there are certain meanings and beliefs associated with the cock character that most Asian people would believe. People born in the Cock year are deep thinkers, capable, and talented. They like to be busy, are devoted beyond their capabilities, and are deeply disappointed if they fail. Every country has big holidays and they are being celebrated differently from one country to another. In the United Stated, Christmas seems to be a biggest holiday where family gathers around homes and churches to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Whereas in Vietnam, Tet Nguyen-Dan, or the arrival of the Lunar New Year, is the most joyful and ceremonious of all Vietnamese Holidays. Tet, as it is generally called, is normally celebrated for three days, beginning on the first day of the first month of the lunar year. Most Vietnamese living in the United States will celebrate or take note of Tet in some way. Therefore, it is desirable to know what Tet means to the Vietnamese, and how it is celebrated in their homeland. The sequence of Tet is very complex and has many meanings, stages that one person should know so that he or she will do well on this holiday. I will talk specifically about the sequence of Tet, which is the preparation for Tet. Next, I will share the important meaning of the New Year’s Eve in Tet Nguyen Dan. Finally, I will tell you what Vietnamese people usually believe and do on those huge three days celebration.
Preparations for Tet are elaborate and take many days. Families save throughout the year to provide for the expenses of Tet. Houses are repainted, thoroughly cleaned and decorated with flowers and peach or plum branches. New Year’s wishes for happiness, prosperity, and long life are artistically written on red paper and displayed in prominent places. Some days before Tet, Ong Tao (on the 23rd of the twelfth moon), people start their preparations for the Kitchen God’s journey to the Heaven to make his report to the Jade Emperor. This report includes the year’s activities of the household in which he has lived. A farewell and thank-you dinner is given to the Kitchen God at Tet Ong Tao. The Kitchen God will need a week for his mission to Heaven.
After the Kitchen God has gone to the Heaven, preparations for the New Year festivities begin in enthusiasm. The week before New Year’s Eve is called a period of “Tat Nien”. Tat Nien (literally meaning the end or “to extinguish the year”) is the celebration of the last session of a period, such as the last class of school, the last day in the office, even the last bath, all with parties and great ceremonies.
In the countryside, many people erect tall bamboo poles in front of their houses, with amulets to ward off evil spirits and flags to attract the spirits of ancestors.
Altars for the ancestors are set up in most houses. Candlesticks and incense burners are polished to a shining gloss. In addition, visits are made to the cemetery to clean and decorate ancestor graves. New clothes are ordered and special delicacies are cooked. When Tet is a approaching, crowd of shoppers at the markets become thicker and more frantic each night, holding up traffic as they jostle each other to reach the counters with the best buys. Prices are a bit higher, but thriftiness is not considered a virtue at Tet. Enough food is prepared in advance so that no one has to spend much time in the kitchen during the day that Tet is celebrated. People living far away from home try to return for reunions with their families. Although celebrations vary according to local custom and family traditions, the following practices are most commonly observed
As midnight approaches, all eyes maintain a close look on clocks and watches. The Giao Thua ritual occurs at that most sacred moment in time. At midnight on the last day of the year, every Vietnamese family whispers similar fervent prayers. The word Giao means to give and Thua means to receive, so Giao Thua marks the magical transition time from one year to another. Those who practice Buddhism will pray in the pagodas.
New Year’s Eve, Giao Thua, is the transition moment between the old year and the New Year. It is one of the most important moments during the Tet holiday. By ten o’clock on New Year’s Eve, all streets are deserted. Everyone stays at home awaiting the magic hour of midnight. The even of Tet is celebrated with fireworks. It is believed that the loud noise of the fireworks will scare the evil spirits away. Massive strings of fireworks, the longer the better, are attached to the front of every house. When New Year’s Eve comes, everyone competes in firing crackers. Joss sticks are lit on the family altar and offerings are made of food, fresh water, flowers, and betel. Nobody dares sleep at this moment for fear of “loosing one age”. All members of the family gather in the living room, pray together, then congratulate the New Year and wish each other the very bests for the coming year; everyone is congratulated and offered wishes for the New Year beginning with the eldest set of parents (usually the grandparents), then the rest of the family according to order. After the Giao Thua is the start of the New Year with many customs and practices, amusements and entertainment, all of a distinct Vietnamese folk culture. If you have an opportunity to visit Vietnam during the Tet Holidays and to welcome the Tet Festivities, together with the Vietnamese people, you will surely be profoundly impressed by the distinct traditional culture that is rich in national identity.
Now I am going to tell you what Vietnamese people often do on those three days of TET. On the morning of the New Year’s Day, everybody puts on new clothes, and joyful greets each other Happy New Year. Children vow to be well behaved and offer wishes to the adult (parents, relatives, or visitors). The adults in return give children money in a red envelop. The first visitor to a home is very important. If the visitor is rich, prestigious, or happy then the family will have good fortune that year. Usually this visitor is a relative, but sometimes the family will invite a special guest that they feel will bring them good luck. The first day of Tet is reserved for visiting family and relatives.
The second day is set-aside for special guests and close friends to visit, and the third day is for teachers and business associates to make a visit. Negative talk, and arguments are taboo. Visitors end their visit with a farewell wish for the family such as, “I wish that money will flow into your house like water, and out like a turtle.”
Vietnam has many traditional and religious holidays but none can be compared to New Year festival, Tet Nguyen-Dan. This tradition culture remains as it was tooted from many previous generations.
The Tet of the New Year is, above all, a fete of the family. Tet is also an opportunity to welcome deceased ancestors back for a family reunion with their descendants. Finally, Tet is a good opportunity for family members to meet. This custom has become sacred and secular and, therefore, no matter where they are or whatever the circumstances, family members find ways to come back to meet their loved ones.
In the United States, large populations of Vietnamese celebrate Tet. In Orange County, California, Vietnamese children do not attend school that day. Ladies wear red and yellow, the colors of the Vietnamese flag, and the men wear all black. They go to church, eat earth cake, and have games, carnival rides, food booths, and contests that are set up at a local college. The red envelopes are passed with “lucky money” in it. In the evening red firecrackers explode and dragon dances begin.
When we speak of Viet Nam, most people would remember or refer to the Viet Nam War with some good and bad memories. However, today I have just introduced to you about the New Year’s Celebration in Viet Nam. I hope that that you have a better picture about Viet Nam besides what has been a portrait from the war. Moreover, I wish that you will get to know more about Vietnamese culture, people and will share some of this wonderful information like I am sharing with you right now to some of the others.