What is Têt?
Têt is the most important festival of the Vietnamese calendar. It marks the beginning of the Lunar New Year and a time to make a new start. Festivities occur throughout the country, but this is a family holiday and many of the traditions of observance occur in the home. The official holiday lasts four days, and celebrations continue for at least the first week of the New Year. According to the Chinese Zodiac, which consists of 12 animal signs, 2014 is the year of a free spirit.
This year the first day of Têt is January 31st with the legal holiday spreading from January 29th to February 6th.
Vietnamese families prepare their houses for the coming of the prosperous New Year by cleaning up and polishing their silver, among other tasks. Preparations begin about ten days before the New Year. Homes are cleaned out in the hopes of getting rid of the past year’s bad luck, and some families go so far as to repaint their home’s exterior. It also is believed to be lucky to buy new clothes and get a fresh haircut; parents buy new clothes for their children so that the children can wear them when Têt arrives. In the days leading up to Têt, the streets and markets are full of people. As most all shops will be closed during Têt, people will stock up on supplies. Vietnamese people also try to pay their debts in advance so that they can be debt-free and welcome the New Year with a clean slate. Seven days prior to Têt (23rd of Dec, Lunar Calendar), most Vietnamese families offer a farewell ceremony for Ong Tao (Kitchen God) to go up to the Heavenly Palace. His task is to make an annual report to the Jade Emperor of the family’s affairs throughout the year.
The last day of the old year and the first three days of the New Year are the most important days of the Lunar New
Year. On New Year’s Eve, families gather for dinner with the presence of all family members. In the middle night of this day, people prepare a feast at the transfer moment from the old year to the New Year. They offer personal prayers to honor and thank the God of Heaven and the God of Earth for their blessings. During this time,
Ong Tao returns to earth after making the report to the Jade Emperor. Each family offers an open-air ceremony to welcome him back to their kitchen. On New Year’s Day, most families meet to exchange gifts and have a traditional meal. All thoughts of sadness are to be avoided. Children are encouraged not to fight or cry and anyone in mourning is shunned because it is bad luck to be associated with death on New Year’s Day. Many families plant a new year’s tree in front of the house and wrap it with lucky red paper. The tree is removed at the end of the first week of the New Year. After the family meal, many Vietnamese attend the local pagoda to worship ancestors. The second day of the New Year is often reserved for going to meet grandparents or extended family and the third day is the day for visiting current or past teachers. Most Vietnamese families will leave someone at home as the rest of the family goes out to visit others – in this way they don’t miss out on welcoming visitors to their own home.
Food & Flowers of Têt
Food is an important part of the Têt celebrations. The Vietnamese believe that what a person does on New Year’s Day dictates the course of the rest of the year, and eating a lot represents the hope that no one will go hungry in the coming year. During this time most families begin to make or buy the traditional Bánh Chưng (typical for North Vietnamese) or Bánh Tét (typical for South Vietnamese).
ng is a traditional Vietnamese rice cake which is mng and banh day, which symbolize the Earth and the Sky. It is considered an essential element of the family altar on the occasion of Têt in order to honor the ancestors and pray them to support the family in the New Year. Wrapped in a green ng is a delicacy of Vietnamese cuisine is of one of many national dishes, it can be enjoyed year round.
Similar to the Christmas tree in the West, Vietnamese also use many kinds of flowers and plants to decorate their homes for the holiday. Traditional plants include the Hoa Đao (Peach Flower), Hoa Mai (the Vietnamese mickey-mouse plant) and Cay Quât (Kumquat Tree). Other flowers may be displayed too. Vietnamese families traditionally lay out a tray of 5 fruits at the altar. The fruits are colorful and meaningful. In Asian mythology, the world is made of five basic elements: metal, wood, water, fire and earth. The plate of fruits on the family alter at New Year is one of the several ways to represent this concept. It also represents the desire for good crops and prosperity.
Pray with us for the people’s of Viet Nam as they celebrate Tet. Pray that God’s richest blessings will come on them in the year ahead – beginning with the blessing of Hope and Salvation found in Jesus Christ alone.
The contents in this post have been excerpted and adapted from the Santa Fe Company’s 2014 Tet Survival Guide.