Tết nguyên đáng (01/01)
“Tết” is a word of Chinese Origin. It is the phonetic deformation of “Tiet”, a Sino Vietnamese term which means “Joint of a bamboo stern” and in a wider sense, the “beginning of a period of the year”. The passage from one period to the next may cause a meteorological disturbance (heat, rain, mist) that must be exercised by ritual sacrifices and festivities. Thus, there are many Tets throughout the year (Mid-autumn Vietnamese New Year, Cold Food Vietnamese New Year, etc.). The most significant of all is “Vietnamese New Year Ca” (“Big Vietnamese New Year” or simply “Vietnamese New Year”), which marks the Lunar New Year.
Vietnamese New Year occurs somewhere in the last ten days of January or the first twenty days of February, nearly halfway between winter solstice and spring equinox. Although the Lunar New Year is observed throughout East Asia, each country celebrates Vietnamese New Year in its own way in conformity with its own national psyche and cultural conditions.
For the Vietnamese people, Vietnamese New Year is like a combination of Western Saint Sylvester, New Year’s Day, Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. It is the festival of Purity and Renewal.
Nature always renews its youth, returning to its primary purity and freshness. People, who are part of Nature, follow the same course.
Vietnamese New Year, the first day of spring, carries with it all the rebirth connotations that Easter has in the West. In the course of this period of universal renewal and rejuvenation, the Vietnamese feel the spring sap welling up within them. This feeling has given rise to special customs: every deed during the three days of Vietnamese New Year should be well intentioned and finely realized, for it symbolizes and forecasts actions during the coming twelve months. One abstains from getting cross, from using bad language. The most shrewish mother-in-law smokes the pipe of peace with her daughter-in-law. Quarrelling husbands and wives bury their hatchets. Children promise to be good, grown-ups hand the children gifts, which are often coins wrapped in scarlet paper since red is the color of luck. The children are happy to get new clothes. Beggars are given alms. The “new” world must be the best of the worlds. Once the holy resting time is over, activities resume with a new frame of mind after inaugurating ceremonies: “inauguration of the seals” for civil servants, “inauguration of the pen-brush” for scholars and students, “inauguration of the shop” for traders.
For the Vietnamese, Vietnamese New Year brings a message of confidence in humanity; it brings redemption, hope and optimism.
Other Tet Celebrations
Tết Thanh Minh(tảo mộ 03/03)
The “Pure Brightness” or ancestral rituals are celebrated in the third lunar month, 15 days after the Spring equinox. It is a day for cleaning of the ancestor’s gravesides and tombs, time for tidying up the graves. People from Hanoi travel to the countryside cemeteries to place fresh earth on the graves, pull weeds, replant flowers and repaint the tombs.
Tết Đoan Ngo ( Tục hái lá thuốc 05/05)
It’s on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. This is also celebrated in China. It corresponds to the Summer solstice, the time of peak growth. It is thought to be an unhealthy period of time, a time of epidemics. Vietnamese people pray to avoid epidemics and eat nhng, the larvae of the silkworm. Vietnamese people believe that on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, the intestinal worms emerge and that this provides an opportunity to eradicate them by eating green fruit and rice with liquor, called ruou nep. Liquor makes the worms drunk and the fruit will kill them. This is also the time to take a therapeutic shower and rub ones body with mint leaves. People go into the countryside and pick medicinal herbs to dry and store because samples picked that day are believed to cure parasitic diseases. It is also a day of prayer for freedom from crop destroying insects.
Tết Trung Nguyên (ngày lễ vu lan báo hiếu 15/07)
This holiday is celebrated on the fifteenth of the seventh month. It is a time to make offering to the dead. Beside porridge, fruits, cakes and candies are offered and paper clothes burned for use by the spirits in the world beyond. Sinners in hell are forgiven, so the Vietnamese offer these items to lost souls who visit this world to enjoy themselves so they will be in a good mood to help the living.
Tết Trung Thu(tết thiếu nhi 15/08)
Held in Vietnam on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar year, Tet Trung Thu, or the mid-autumn festival, celebrates the first full moon’s glow when it shines at its brightest. Although the moon is physically at its greatest distance from the earth, it appears large on the horizon in an unusual reddish glow. In the West, it’s called a harvest moon.
During the festival, children parade in the streets with glowing lanterns, which observe the light of the moon, and wear masks in the form of animals, while lion dancers and drummers join the youngsters. It’s a wonderful time for children to delight in the season’s revelry.
The festival provides families an opportunity to gather and enjoy each other’s company and eat sweet moon cake pastries filled with a variety of meats and in different shapes and sizes. Vietnamese moon cakes include an unbaked, white and sticky Bánh Deo and a baked brown Bánh Nuong. Where families gather to feast, they also honor ancestors with incense and by burning fake money, which rises up to deceased relatives in the smoke.