Tết or the Vietnamese New Year is a celebration that happens every year around the end of January to early February. The celebration lasts four days beginning the first day of the Vietnamese calendar year in the line with the new moon for the new year. This is the most important holiday for the Vietnamese.
Although Tết is technically only four days, the festivities usually last much longer. In Phong Nha, for example, the celebrations started just under two weeks before and continued until a little over a week after. During this time businesses are closed, banks are closed and people are enjoying their time off with family and friends.
Houses, businesses and streets are decorated with beautiful marigolds to symbolize longevity and a kumquat tree is set in the living room or lobby, (almost like a christmas tree). The many fruits on the tree symbolize fertility and fruitfulness.
In the weeks leading up to Tet, I began to see the town preparing for the festival by cleaning up the streets and homes. Doors of houses were constantly opened, so you could see their beautiful displays and offerings to their ancestors. People were happy and inviting and food was plentiful! A feast of different Vietnamese foods was abound in every household, including boiled chicken, duck, rice, tofu and many other goodies. At the market you might find a boiled chicken with roses in its butt. When I asked why, they said because it’s an offering to the ancestors. Of course, my next question was if they ate the offered chicken. A local woman explained that once the ancestors are finished, they will eat it. Between 45 minutes and a few hours after the initial offering.
Also at this time children are given lucky money. It has to be crisp uncirculated bills roughly amounting to the equivalent of $1 American dollar. We had brought along some uncirculated $2 bills, because we heard those are considered very lucky and they were well received. When I handed them out, people would say, “oh lucky money!!”
Because the New Year is considered a fresh and new start, many many weddings take place at this time. It doesn’t matter what day of the week it was, there was a wedding almost every single day leading up to Tết. This time of year is considered the best time to banish all the bad, start fresh and begin new relationships.
Shop owners like to open new businesses right after Tết as well, to ensure a prosperous year.
Back to the actual celebrations of Tết. The first day is reserved for visiting family and is the day after the New Years Eve. New years eve is where they set off unexploded ordnances as I mentioned in my earlier post. They only set off these bombs in the smaller towns and never in any major city. Also after all these years and MAG clearing them, there are now fewer explosions happening.
The idea is that for four days and nights you eat and drink plenty, while spending time with your family. It’s almost like our holidays, I know my wine consumption rises around this time. Happy Tết!