Around the world, many people come together to celebrate and rejoice in the New Year. In America, we celebrate by counting down the clock and watching the ball drop in Times Square. In China and Vietnam, it is certain to see the celebration of the New Year with the Lunar Calendar and its Thanksgiving-Christmas-like fashion. Originally from China, after Vietnam split off, they took the culture with them. Although the two regions share similar traditions, there are some differences strung about. The strongest difference between Vietnamese Tet, and Lunar New Year, is the calendars. “The Vietnamese replaced the Ox, Rabbit, and Sheep in the Chinese calendar with the Buffalo, Cat, and Goat, respectively (Asian-Nation:Tet ).”
The goal of Tet is to get everyone to return back to their homelands; out of respect for the Vietnamese culture and customs. All who are able to return to Vietnam or China do, and those who have to stay in the states to work celebrate, mainly, only the First Day of Tet. In Olympia, Washington there is the Buddhist Temple of Olympia. Many Vietnamese come there to celebrate with dragon costumes and firecrackers. For many of the older generations, in the past recent years, this has been the first time they are able to return back to Vietnam. In the ’70s, there was the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War was a traumatic experience for many. The Viet Cong (Northern, Communist Vietnam) was invading the south and you could not return without the fear of being captured or killed.
The days leading up to Tet are vital for the celebrations to occur. In Vietnam, families deep clean the house, and their vehicles. Car washes and motorcycle washes open up on the side of the road. During this first week, people also wear new, nice clothing, so that they can start the New Year fresh. A common attire during Tet is the Áo dài, mainly for women but men will wear them during traditional Vietnamese weddings. The Áo dài is considered to be very sexy, and if you do not look good in one… it may determine your marriage prospects. Custom Áo dài are thousands of dollars and are made to fit the wearer perfectly.
The First Day of Lunar New Year or Tet is important for all grandparents. Grandparents are given “Lucky Money” or “Li Xi.” Families then travel to temples and pray for the New Year and for family, who have passed away and have given so much for us, to live comfortably the way we do today. Many families gather in the mausoleums and have picnics and drink beer. If your relatives are located out in the country, you are required to go out to their graves. Making the young people clean them, paint them white, and decorate them with food, flowers, and money. In Vietnamese and other Asian cultures, it is very important to take care of our elders, and our ancestors. This practice is called ancestral veneration.
After taking care of their ancestors, and honoring them through prayer. All the families then spend the next week eating and enjoying the finer things in life; such as food. Food is a huge part of the celebration of the Lunar New Year. Traveling from one relative to the next to indulge in Thanksgiving-like dinners. The food presented, in itself, is a competition amongst the grandmas and mas. Grandma’s make their best food, in attempts at jousting their way to the top and showing everyone else up. There are lots of special foods being served during this time. For example, there are whole baby pigs in large boxes on display and moon cakes. Moon cakes are a big deal, stands pop-up and advertise the “most cheap” or the “most expensive in all of Saigon!” The moon cake is important because it symbolizes togetherness. If you have a boss, you might buy him a big, expensive one to show him respect.
Among the eating, there are many fairs and street events. All the businesses are closed during Tet; so it is important to get everything ready beforehand. The businesses also have flower topiaries set up outside their buildings. Truc’s uncle, Dũng, is a florist for the bank, year-round. During Tet, he is so busy that he has no time to speak to anyone. Over the week of Tet, no one works unless it is for the good of Tet. The blocks of the streets are shut down for kilometers, and there is no police present. Everyone during these celebrations are extremely polite. People take turns running up to the topiaries and taking photos. Due to the Vietnam War, there are many people living in Vietnam with disabilities. These people are given the first choice in seating when viewing the parades. An important aspect of the celebration is one-upping other businesses. Businesses, import giant trees from the fields to the city in front of buildings. These trees are grown in the rural fields and then all of the green leaves are picked off, leaving beautiful yellow leaves behind; at the end of the week, these leaves bud into flowers.
A local Vietnamese-community member, Tuan, also commented that “In Vietnam Tet is very cheerful, and the families come together to celebrate the new year, eat confectioneries, and drink water… On the streets, everyone wears new and beautiful clothes.”
Chinese New Year
The Tumwater community is a diverse one, a few students wanted to share their experiences and love for Lunar New Year. Jinrong P., a senior at Tumwater High School says that “While Chinese New Year is a celebration for the new year on the Chinese lunar calendar, I typically just see it as an opportunity for my family to just together and celebrate. I still have no idea how the Chinese lunar calendar even works. I celebrate Chinese New Year very differently in China compared to in the United States. When I’m not in China, we just have a special dinner at home with my mom and dad. However, in China, there’s always a big celebration with all family including cousins and other relatives. We celebrate by having a huge dinner and then setting off fireworks afterward. My favorite part about celebrating is the food but also my rare opportunity to see all my family members in one place.”
Another student of Tumwater High School, Lee F., also shared his experience of going to B.C., Vancouver, and participating in the large Chinese festival there.
“Tet is a widely celebrated festival by all Asian countries that celebrate the New Year on the Lunar calendar.”
“I normally celebrate Tet by going out to an Asian restaurant in town and setting off fireworks and firecrackers. I also went to Vancouver Canada and stayed for the big New Years’ parade in Chinatown.”
“My favorite thing about Tet is the 3-hour long parade in Chinatown, seeing the lion dances and dragon dances up and down the street blocks.”
At the end of the week, everyone is tired from all the celebrating, eating, and drinking. However, the children run around with their new toys and spend their Li Xi, or maybe even save it! It is a wonderful tradition and there is always something new to see every New Year! It is truly a sight to be seen, and we should consider ourselves grateful and fortunate to have such a diverse community who wants to share their practices and culture with us.