The Culture of “TET NGUYEN DAN”
Table of Contents
- 1 The Culture of “TET NGUYEN DAN”
- 1.1 Preparations for the Tet Festival
- 1.1.1 A week before Tet
- 1.1.2 The End of the Year
- 1.1.3 Cleaning, Decorating and Cooking for the Tet Festival
- 1.1.4 The Eve of the Tet Festival
- 1.1.5 Tet and three days later
- 1.1.6 Visiting Friends and Relatives an important part of the TET Festival
- 1.1.7 Cây Nêu
- 1.1.8 Hoa Đào (the Peach Blossoms)
- 1.1.9 The Kumquat
- 1.2 Special Foods for the Tet Festival
“TET NGUYEN DAN” (Tet Festival) is a national festival celebrated throughtout Vietnam. Whether you are in Danang, Nha Trang, Hue, Hoi An or Hanoi throughout this festival Vietnamese people will wear traditional costumes and their finest clothes. The Tet Festival signifies many family obligations. Families will participate in ancestral worship as well as a ceremony to say goodbye with Táo Quân (the God of the Kitchen). The Tet Festival is a time for Vietnamese families to gather and wish best wishes for the coming year.
The Tet Festival a time of Celebration
Tết Nguyên Đán is the most vital celebration in the culture of Vietnam. “Tết” is the short version of “Tết Nguyên Đán”. Which means the beginning of the very first morning of the new year. The Tet Festival is a Vietnamese version of celebrating the Lunar New Year. It features all the aspects of a Birthday, Halloween, New Year’s Day and Thanksgiving celebrations. Numerous East Asian nations celebrate the Lunar New Year which has its orgins in China. Nevertheless, Vietnam, like many other countries have incorporated features of these Chinese celebrations and rituals.
The Tet Festival and its connection to Mother Earth
In Vietnam, agriculture is one of the most vital factors in many livelihoods throughout the country. The Tet Festival is a wonderful way to celebrate the perfect union of the dead and the living, the culture, and Mother Nature. Luck plays an important part in the Tet Festival. A strong belief in lucky symbols sees presentation of special plants which represent prosperity and future happiness. Plants and gifts are a representation of gods and ancestors and through the well-prepared foods, which help connect family members. The Tet Festival celebrations are a holistic way to link the living with the spiritual and natural world.
A year in the lunar calendar usually lasts for 355 days; therefore, Tết often falls from January to February in the western calendar.
Preparations for the Tet Festival
A week before Tet
Legend has it that every year, the “Táo Quân” will return to Heaven and report the usual activities of every house to the “Ngọc Hoàng Thượng Đế” (or the Jade Emperor) on the 23rd of the last month in the lunar calendar (a week before Tết). Depending on the report of Táo Quân, the Heaven will determine different fates for each household in the coming year. To prepare for the journey of Táo Quân. Families usually put some cookies near the altar or the fireplace in order to sweeten his journey. This is so he will tell good things. The Jade Emperor will then offer their families more happiness and fortune in the next year.
The End of the Year
“Tất niên”, of which means the end of the year, is the time after Táo Quân’s departure. In this time, Vietnamese people will celebrate together the end of work activities or schooling. Many people also use this chance to cleanse their relatives’ graves. The weeds are carefully cleared, incenses are burn as well as a tray of “Mâm Ngũ Quả”. This tray includes five types of fruits such as the custard apples, figs, coconuts, papayas, and mangos. Vietnamese believe that the present of those fruits is a wish for a prosperous year. The tray is offered on the altar to show the respect and remind the young generation of the dead.
At this time, the busy streets of the city are full of vendors, which sell numerous colorful paraphernalia, flowers, and fresh fruits. For almost every household, “hoa đào” (or the peach blossoms) and the kumquat plants are indispensable. Those plants are meticulously chosen by the shoppers in order to find the best fruits and flowers. It is also important that the trees can stay healthy and keep vibrant color throughout this important celebration so that they can be displayed in front of every house.
Cleaning, Decorating and Cooking for the Tet Festival
The cleaning, decorating and cooking for the Tet Festival is busier than ever. Because it is a tradition that the housework and cooking should be avoided throughout the first three days of Tet. As a consequence, many families spend the Tất Niên time decorating and preening their houses with symbolism. The kumquat, peach blossom and “Cây Nêu”, especially, the “Câu đối” (which includes two red banners with black scripts Chinese quills written two respective short meaningful sentences) so that they can welcome their relatives and guests in the next days.
The Eve of the Tet Festival
Generally, on the Eve of Tet Eve the whole country is in anticipation and excitement for the New Year. When hour hand, the minute hand, and the second hand of the clock meet each other at midnight, the Giao Thừa ceremony is started. This ceremony is to say goodbye to the previous year and say hello to the New Year. At Buddhist pagodas or temples, the bells ring, the prayers will chant, and at home, family members gather to congratulate and greet each other for a happy New Year.
The Giao Thừa Ceremony is also the national birthday of Vietnamese. Incenses are burnt; the family members will welcome their ancestors to take part in this sacred and cozy ceremony. In the busy streets, the atmosphere is overwhelmed with cheerful shouts and on the sky, the colorful fireworks are blooming.
Tet and three days later
The 1st day of Tết is the most enthusiastic time for both children and adults. It symbolizes a new and fresh beginning, cleansing all the misfortunes of the past and bringing hopes and dreams for a bright future.
Because Vietnamese believe that all the actions they do on the 1st day of Tet is the consequential similarity for the rest of the year. They always make an attempt to be in a good mood as well as avoid negative behaviors and actions toward their relatives and friends.
Family members will unite and dress the Áo dài or in beautiful clothes in order to welcome the 1st day of the New Year. In the very first days of Tết it is also the moment of cheerful feasts and merry stories.
The children are always eager to wait for their “Lì xì” (or lucky money), which is a gift, usually money, wrapped in a red envelope. Grandparents, parents and relatives will present “Lì xì” for the children and give them best wishes or advice for the next year. The children thank the adults for the gift and send their best wishes to them.
Visiting Friends and Relatives an important part of the TET Festival
Visiting friends and relatives is an essential activity throughout the Tết holiday. The order of visits relied on the blood relation as well as the one’s status in the society. In the morning of the 1st day of Tết, the celebration is usually for family members consisting of the parents of the husband as well as the esteemed guests, whose social status is respectable. The host believes that the attendance of these people will bring good luck to his dear family. On the 2nd day of Tết, the celebration is often held with the presence of the wife’s parents as well as extended relatives.
On the 3rd day of Tết, it is the time for visiting bosses, colleagues, and friends. Moreover, the spirits of the ancestors will return to Heaven on this day. Therefore, family members will offer luxurious goods like cars, clothes or new houses and money for their dead relatives by burning the paper versions of these things. A lot of Buddhists will visit pagodas in order to pray for the happiness and prosperity of their families. Besides, many people visit the Buddhist temples to “Xin xăm” so that they can predict their future via metaphorical poems.
Cây Nêu is an important plant of Tết. It includes a long stem of bamboo, whose leaves are stripped with the exception for those on the crown. Cây Nêu is always decorated with talismanic objects and red paper. The tree’s apex is beautified with Yang and Yin symbols, which symbolized the two main forces of the world. A carp flag made of paper is sometimes placed as a replacement for the Yin & Yang symbols. Legend has it that the Táo Quân (or the God of the Kitchen) uses the carb as a vehicle for his journey to the Heaven. On the 7th day of Tết, Cây Nêu is taken down.
Hoa Đào (the Peach Blossoms)
Is an important decorative and symbolic plant of all families throughout the Tết holiday. It is believed to have the power to protect the household from evil spirits thanks to the two legendary stories. Once upon a time, there were two gods named Trà and Uất Lũy, who lived on a giant peach blossom tree located in an eastern village of Sóc Sơn Mountain in northern Vietnam.
The two gods were so powerful that the evil spirits were always scared of them, even the image of the peach blossom tree can ward off them. However, Trà and Uất Lũy had to return to heaven for a compulsory meeting at the end of the lunar year. Thus, the village was left without protection. Villagers, at that time, came up with displaying the image or the branch of the peach blossoms in front of their houses to protect themselves against those evil spirits.
The Kumquat is a symbolic representation of the family’s generations. It is believed that the fruits symbolize grandparents, the flowers for parents and the buds or the green leaves for the children. Thus, the Kumquat is considered a family tree! These plants must be meticulously selected to assure the symmetry of the leaves as well as the shape and the colour of the fruits.
Special Foods for the Tet Festival
A traditional cuisine of the Tet Festival consists of pig’s trotter stewed with bamboo shoot, mung been puddings, papaya salads, stir-fried almond, and steamed sticky rice. Many kinds of Mứt (or the candies or snacks made of fruits) are served. These fruit treats are serve in a round tray on the table for esteemed guests. Nevertheless, different areas may have different unique foods for the Tet Festival. Some of those regions are even well-known for their special Tet delicacies.
Tet Festival Delicacies
In the North of Vietnam, the unique food of the Tet Festival is the “Bánh Chưng”. Banh Chung is a square cake made of sticky rice, mung beans, and pork. Should you visit central Vietnam, especially in Hue, the cuisine for the Tet Festival is built on the on the foundations of emperors past. Bánh Tét, which is a round version of Bánh Chưng is the main dish of the Tet Festival in this region.
The Mứt is also a mainstay food here. Tt is usually made of numerous fruits as ginger root, oranges, apples, pumpkins and even flower blossoms. In Southern Vietnam, due to the warm climate, the cuisine is made from tropical ingredients. “Thịt khô hột vịt”, of which ingredients include pork stewed with coconut milk and eggs, is the specialty of this region. Besides, Tết dishes are often enjoyed with pickled green sprouts of turnips, carrots, and leeks, which supports digestion.
In recent years, the desire for a more healthy menu throughout the Tet Festival has led to the advent of tết cuisine in many vegetarian versions. Creative cooks are devising vegetarian versions of traditional meaty dishes. Replacing the wrapping of beef in lá lốt (or the Piper lolot) or boiled pork pie with soybeans or tofu.
Bánh Chưng (Sticky Rice)
Throughout the TET festival Bánh Chưng which is sticky rice cake wrapped in bamboo leaves and tied with bamboo fibers is enjoyed. Mixed in the middle of the rice is meat normally pork and mung beans paste. The reason of the square shape of Bánh Chưng comes from the thankfulness of Vietnamese to the rich source of food throughout the year. It is lke a little present.