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  • Writer's pictureDeb Smithers

TET - Vietnam. Lunar New Year

Year of the Cat

Red oriental lanterns in a row. Travel to the orient.

Wix photo

Red lanterns and red and gold lucky money envelopes
Lucky money

Tet, the biggest celebration of the year for the Vietnamese. It's the coming together of loved ones, paying respect and welcoming in the Lunar New Year. This Tet I was lucky to have been living in Hoi an, to truly experience this wonderful occasion.

'Tet' is also known as 'Tet Nguyen Dan' and 'Mam Ngu Qua' at the festival, represents the quintessence that Heaven and Earth bless humans. It is very important to families not only to pay respect to their loved ones, but also it is a time for families to all come together, including from the afterlife. Most Vietnamese believe that the spirits of their ancestors still live alongside them as they did before they passed.

This year Tet has fallen between 20 - 26 Jan with the start of the New Lunar Year being 22 Jan. Where most of us celebrate as the hand reaches 12 midnight the Vietnamese in fact begin at 11pm. This is the dedicated hour before the Lunar New Year for prayers and thanksgiving, it's a time that large amounts of incense are burned ceremonially.

As I am told by the humble young lady that sells her wares and beads on the beach every day, that she will work the first day of the Lunar New Year. For her it is a must, as the belief is that those who work and earn money on the first day of the Lunar New Year will have a prosperous year ahead.

Hoian - The streets are lined with wonderful yellow flowers as far as the eye can see.

Each home has a blessing table, or Cai Bah as I am told it is rightly called, at the entry door. The tables are meticulously arranged and each family member has a job to attend to on the preparation day. Stacked in abundance with an array of foods, soups, salted meats, rice cakes, vermicelli and chicken hearts, then added is all the fruits, candies, flowers, incense cigarettes and beer. It is topped off with wads of Joss money and personal items and with a comical but impressively arranged boiled chicken that takes place directly in front of the Cai Bah!

An elderly man from my village shared the story of far back in his younger days the people would prepare months ahead buying baskets of chickens, then penned a month before for fattening and ready for Tet. He recalls on the 25th & 26th December the sounds throughout the neighborhood of many animals being killed. He tells of it as something he never forgets.

As a related post, 'Blessings to the ones who have passed' see link below. The atmosphere of preparation has entered the memory of all Vietnamese. The Joss money and paper personal items are to be burned and delivered to the loved ones in the afterlife.

The traditional family meal for Tet is Banh Chung (Sticky square cake) and it is made from rice wrapped in Banana leaf that symbolizes the earth and boiled for up to 14 hours. It is a traditional food around Tet time as it can last for many weeks in the Vietnamese weather. Also is the boiled or deep-fried Vietnamese ham sausage, Braised pork belly with duck egg (Thit Kho Hot Vit ) cooked in coconut juice and fish sauce.

Candied Coconut ribbon, coated fruits and lots of beer!

Wrapping Banh Chung (Sticky square cake) for Tet celebrations.

Banh Chung (Sticky square cake)

This man is taking 11 cases of beer on his bike for delivery. Vietnam
Beer delivery

Families believe that their activities during Tet should involve happiness, joy and good luck. One long standing Tet tradition is to gift the young children with a decorated envelope of 'Lucky money'. Usually, 50000 dong is recommended for each envelope and the kids look so proud walking with the biggest smiles and collections of these cute little envelopes in their hands.

Colorful lucky money envelopes for children. Tet, Vietnam
Lucky Money

Lucky Cat.

They burn piles of incense at the gate to their homes for the lost souls as a sign they are welcome. They believe that the first person who enters the house sets a benchmark for the whole year to come. For no reason should you enter a house on the first day uninvited. This is the day when gates are generally locked due to this belief.

Vietnam. The Village/Shrine. Buddhist Beliefs.
Village Temple

My quaint little village by the river has been in overdrive, cleaning and clearing. Painting out of their gates and hosing out their homes as they believe luck sticks to dust. The village shrine has been decorated with red flags, lights and cleaned. The path is lined with pots of brilliant yellow flowers.

Lunar New Year. Tet. Travelling Vietnam. Cumquat tree and banner.

The fishermen are cleaning the nets with water pressure hoses and the fish farm lakes have been emptied for cleaning and maintenance. It is the time for all to get a haircut, get those ears cleaned, nails trimmed and put on their best shirts.

It's the time to settle those old debts and disputes. To get your karaoke playlist and singing skills up to scratch. The motorbikes get the only wash and service for the year and the major roads are lit up like Christmas. I love how they adore their bling.

Glitter and flowers, crafty gift towers made with sweets and beer.
Tet - Gift Hampers.

It's about simple things and acts of kindness. From sweets and beer gift hampers to gifting your neighbors with flower pots and fruit.

These towers are one of the most common gifts to receive during Tet, the Choco pie or Saigon beer tower all decorated in flowers and glitter. They are everywhere and you can see all the ladies each day putting these masterpieces together.

Vibrant red paper lanterns and yellow flowers in bloom for Lunar New Year.

The homes are decorated with Cherry blossoms and Kumquat trees. The vibrant colored fruit represents fertility, fruitfulness and the prosperity that they wish for the coming year.

- : The 12 days of Tet : -

Day 1 - Praying to the kitchen god.

Day 2 & 3 Washing and scrubbing out the old year.

Day 4 - Bringing home the new Kumquat tree.

Day 5 - Wrapping of the Banh Chung (Sticky rice cake) as gifts and presents.

Day 6 &7 - Filling the kitchen with supplies and buying new clothes.

Day 8 - Medicinal herbal baths to purify the body.

Day 9 - Officially marks the start of Tet.

Day 10 - This is family only day, and they invite the ancestors to join them and eat.

Day 11 - Spending quality time with extended family and friends. It's time to feast and drink beer. The lucky money envelopes are handed out to the children waiting so patiently.

Day 12 - The biggest meal of the year. The paper is burned as prayers are recited, sending offerings into the other world.

And a whole lot of fireworks!!!

A display of vibrant colored lanterns from travels in Hoi an
Hoi an - The city of lanterns.

So why is it the year of the cat for Vietnam and not the rabbit? It is because the ancient word for rabbit is "Mao" which they say sounds like a cat's Meow. So that was quickly decided.

The balloon man riding through the streets of Hoi an selling big, vibrant colored balloons for the children.

Chuc Mu'ng Nam Moi!!!


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