Vietnamese Tet or Lunar New Year
Tet Nguyen Dan, or Tet for short, is considered the biggest and most popular festival of the year in Vietnam. Celebrated on the first day of the first month in Lunar Calendar, Tet’s celebration is the longest holiday which may last up to nine days
Tet is the occasion for Vietnamese to express their respect and remembrance for their ancestors as well as welcoming the New Year with their beloved family members. To make it easier, one can imagine Tet as a combination of Christmas and New Year: every family will get together to have big meals, decorate Tet trees and eat Tet food but to welcome the new year instead of a religious cause.
Vietnamese New Year is the most important Festival of the Vietnamese people. Tet is also an opportunity to invite and welcome deceased ancestors back for a family reunion with their descendants to join the family's Tet celebrations. 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, gather for a dinner of traditional foods like bánh chung (a square cake made of sticky rice stuffed with beans and pork), mang (a soup of boiled bamboo shoots and flied pork) and xôi g?c (orange sticky rice). This is followed by a visit to the local pagodas.
Everyone is in a rush to get a haircut, buy new clothes, spruce up their homes, visit friends, settle outstanding debts, and stock up on traditional Tet delicacies. Businesses hang festive red banners which read "Chuc Mung Nam Moi" (Happy New Year) and city streets are festooned with colored lights. Stalls spring up all over town to sell mut (candied fruits and jams), traditional cakes, and fresh fruit and flowers. Certain markets sell nothing but cone-shaped kumquat bushes. Others sell flowering peach trees, symbols of life and good fortune which people bring into their homes to celebrate the coming of spring. As vendors pour into the City with peach trees strapped to their bicycles, the streets look like moving pink forests.
Fruits of Tet: "Mam Ngu Qua"
People says that the five fruits are symbolic of the 5 nature elements - metal, wood, water, fire and soil. Howerver, other ones regard the tray as symbolic of the fruits of a family's hard work throughout the past year, which are consecrated to heaven and earth and their ancestors as sign of respect and gratitude.
Due to differences in climate and fruit crops among regions, Mâm Ngũ Quả also has different color. In northern region, Mâm Ngũ Quả ornamented with pomelos, peaches, kumquats, bananas and persimmons. In southern region, however, Mâm Ngũ Quả ornamented with pairs of watermelons, coconuts, papayas, custard apples, mangos, and figs. Currently, Mâm Ngũ Quả may contain more expensive, rarer fruits like grapes and pears, but all in all it is still a five-fruit tray, a nice offering of the Vietnamese people to their ancestors. It not only displays a life-long tradition but also sends a message of hope for happiness, good luck and prosperity for the new year.
The "five-fruit tray" on the ancestral altar during the Tet Holidays symbolizes the admiration and gratitude of the Vietnamese to Heaven and Earth and their ancestors and demonstrates their aspiration for a life of plenty. The five fruits represent the quintessence hope that Heaven and Earth bless humans. It demonstrates a Vietnamese percept of life, "When taking fruit, you should think of the grower".
Flowers used for Tet: Dao, Mai, Quat (the Peach, Apricot and Kumquat)
Similar to a pine tree on Christmas holiday in the West, Vietnamese people also decorate their house with many kinds of flowers and plants in this special period. Above all, there are three kinds of traditional plants that cannot miss on Tet holiday, which are peach flowers, yellow apricot flowers, and a kumquat tree. They mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring.
- Peach flowers : The charming peach flowers are often seen in Northern Vietnam. They blossom in spring, during Tet holiday while most of other flowers still stay silent. Therefore, it’s considered the symbol of the strong vitality and a brave heart. Moreover, the pink color of peach flowers is believed to bring the love, joy, and happiness among people in this special moment of the year.
Nhat Tan ward, Hanoi is a famous place for growing beautiful peach trees. If you have chances to visit Hanoi on the occasion of the New Year, don’t forget to visit Nhat Tan flower garden to admire a forest of colorful peach flowers.
- Kumquat trees : A tree full of fruits, flowers, leaves, branches, and roots is a symbol of wealth and happiness for the New Year. The kumquat tree is popular decoration for the living room during Tet. It’s hung with greeting cards and lucky symbols.
- Yellow apricot flowers : If peach flower and kumquat tree are the symbols of Tet in the north, yellow apricot flower is more popular in the south. It’s because the characteristics of the plants. While peach trees and kumquat trees grow well in cold weather, apricot trees just can survive in tropical lands with a lot of sunshine.
According to folk tales, the ancestor of the Vietnamese is a couple of dragon and fairy. So it’s thought that the yellow color of apricot flowers means the noble roots of the Vietnamese. In addition, the yellow flowers also symbolize the wealth and passionate love among people.
Visit Vietnam on the occasion of Tet holiday and admire colorful Tet flowers as well as enjoy the cozy atmosphere of the traditional Vietnamese festival.
Food Specialties for TET
On the last day of the old year, the preparation of food to offer to the ancestors is of special significance. Dishes to offer to the ancestors differ in the Northern, Central and Southern parts of the country, depending on their respective weather conditions at the time and on different local agricultural products available. What is common in all regions of the country during Tet holidays are the varieties of soups, fried, boiled, or stewed dishes, meat, fish, vegetable... The foods that the Vietnamese eat at Tet are varied and diverse, but the people throughout the country all want to have the best and the most beautiful looking food on this occasion to offer their ancestors and to treat their friends and guests. Following are the most typical food found in Vietnamese' Tet holiday:
- Banh chung / Banh Tet – Square care: Banh Chung (steamed square cake) and its Southern variety called Banh Tet - is unique to Vietnam's Tet holiday. Banh Chung is a food made from glutinous rice, mung bean and pork, added with many other ingredients. Banh Chung is covered by green leaves (usually banana leaves) and symbolizes the Earth, invented by the prince Lang Lieu from Hung King dynasty. Besides traditional reason, Banh Chung is chosen as the main food for Tet holiday because of it can last long for days in the severe weather of Vietnam (Banh Chung can survive at room temperature for nearly 1 month).
- Vietnamese sausage : Gio Cha (Vietnamese ham/sausage) is another traditional food in Tet holiday, and usually served with Xoi (sticky rice) and Banh Chung. Gio is different from Cha since Gio is boiled and Cha is deep-fried. Vietnamese people make Gio from lean meat, added fish sauce and covered by leaves then boiled for hours. Cha is also made of lean pork and ingredients, but Cha is not wrapped by leaves and boiled but deep-fried in oil. Cha just survive for some days when Gio can last for month due to its covers. There are many kind of Gio, categorized by its origins: Gio Lua (made from pork), Gio Ga (made from chicken), Gio Bo (made from beef). All these types are used not only in Tet holidays but also over the year.
- Sticky rice - Xoi: Xoi (Sticky rice) is also a very important part of Tet holiday in Vietnam, since the meals to worship the ancestors can not missing this dish. Moreover, along with Banh Chung, xoi is the main staple foods for Tet holiday. Xoi in Tet holidays can be seen in many forms: Xoi Lac (sticky rice with peanuts), Xoi Do Xanh (sticky rice with mung bean), Xoi Gac (sticky rice with special “gac” fruit). Among these types, xoi gac is favorite the most by people because of its special red color – symbolizes the luck and new achievement for the New Year. Xoi is usually served with Gio Cha or boiled chicken in Tet meals. Sometimes it can be served with Che (sweet soup) like a dessert.
- Boiled chicken – Thit ga :Thit ga (boiled or steamed chicken) plays an important role in Tet holiday cuisine because all the tribute meals to the ancestors must contain a boiled chicken, whole or chopped. Chicken meat in Tet meals are various in forms: usually chicken are boiled and sliced, but sometimes people can place the whole chicken in a plate, or nowadays some families use roasted or fired chicken to replace the original boiled ones. Chicken meat is served with Xoi (sticky rice) and Banh Chung, and become one of the most popular main dishes in Tet holidays. Boiled chicken are always go with sliced lemon leaves and salt-and-pepper sauce, as a tradition. Chicken (especially bones, legs and heads) can be used to prepare the broths for other soups.
The Giao Thua (New Year's Eve )
The penultimate New Year’s Eve—Tat Nien, the meal finishing the entire year—should be well served, in which everyone involved remembers all the happy moments and talks about the good things only. On the New Year’s Eve (Giao Thua), Vietnamese people have a spectacular celebration which involves the whole nation—some may gather around TV and watch the Tao Quan show, some may go out for fireworks observation or visiting temple and pagoda to hope for happy and successful new year.
The Giao Thua is the most sacred point of time, the passage from the old to the new year. It is popularly believed that in Heaven there are twelve Highnesses in charge of monitoring and controlling the affairs on earth, each of them taking charge of one year. The giao thua is the moment of seeing off the old chieftain upon the conclusion of his term and welcoming in the new one upon his assumption of office. For this reason, every home makes offerings in the open air to pray for a good new year.
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. This is a holiday with a distinct traditional culture that is rich in national identity.