HANOI, Viet Nam – Seasonal transition has always seemed a matter of ambiguity. No one can tell spring’s exact arrival, but Tet is definitely knocking on the door when the first drizzle embraces the street.
To Vietnamese, the Lunar New Year, or Tet, is the most anticipated holiday of the year. Among Tet’s many days of celebration, the Lunar New Year’s Eve is the center of all attention and preparation.
In contrast to the Chinese tradition, it is advisable to clean the house in this sacred day. To cast away the accumulation of evil matters and old energy, unnecessary objects will be thrown away, dust wiped and furniture rearranged.
Under the strong influence of China, red is the dominant tone of ornamentation for it denotes prosperity and good fortune. Its presence can hardly escape one’s notice: red parallel
sentences, pumpkin seeds dyed in red, lucky money contained in red envelopes, and so forth.
A spotless living room on Lunar New Year’s Eve welcomes the new year. (Phuong Phan/YJI)
Signature decorations such as peach blossoms, apricot flowers and mandarin trees are usually employed to give the house a
spring-like, warm and cozy atmosphere. As the old expression “in the pink” suggests, peach blossoms capture the hearts of Northern Vietnamese for their pinkish hue, which signifies safety and good health.
Steamed sticky rice colored by momordica (Phuong Phan/YJI)
The Southerners take great delight in the golden apricot flowers as an embodiment of boundless love and prosperity. The mandarin or kumquat trees incorporate both renewing vitality in the budding leaves and good fortune in their light orange fruits.
Additionally, daffodils, orchids and tulips have recently earned their place in Vietnamese living rooms during Lunar New Year.
Along with the arrival of Tet, there’s a surge in demand for consumer goods. Supermarkets and open-air markets are constantly overcrowded with customers in a rush to shop for new clothes, gifts of gratitude and other necessities. In service of must-have traditional ingredients like sticky rice, some indigenous markets are open beyond nightfall in the period between the 25th and 30th of lunar December.
Votive papers for the New Year’s Eve worship. (Phuong Phan/YJI)
In almost every Vietnamese family home is an ancestral altar. The color, material and arrangement may vary from family to family but the altar’s meaning stays the same: a miniature for the world of the dead.
The ancestral altar, along with other offerings (Phuong Phan/YJI)
It is compulsory to carry out two rituals during the last day of the lunar calendar: the Year-End worship and the Lunar New Year’s Eve worship. The Year-End worship, which serves to round up the happenings of the previous year, is practiced from the 23rd to the 30th of lunar December.
Chung cake (Phuong Phan/YJI)
Taking place at the very beginning of the Lunar New Year, the Lunar New Year’s Eve worship bids farewell to the heavenly officer in charge of the family for the last year and welcomes the new one. Traditional offerings for the two rituals include a boiled rooster, spring rolls, steamed sticky rice, and votive papers.
All of these are put on a tray positioned on the foot of the altar. To commence the ritual, the worshipper would light the incense, recite his wishes before the tray of offerings and plug the incense into the bowl. After the incense has stopped burning, votive papers are removed for incineration.
Tradition says the first person to set foot in the house since the conclusion of the Eve worship decides the fate of the house owner in the following year. Therefore, many Vietnamese refer to a horoscope to select a proper first-footer for their families.
Except for cable TV channels, major channels show the same program on Lunar New Year’s Eve. On this occasion only, a special comedy program called “The End-Of-Year Session” is shown. The show emulates an ancient myth, in which the Kitchen Gods would travel to the Sky Palace on carp and deliver reports to the Jade Emperor on the current situation of Vietnam.
“The End-Of-Year Session” is well-received annually not only for implicit jokes and social satires but also for its frank expression of the public’s opinions and wishes. Meticulous efforts are put into other musical performances in order to guarantee the best quality of entertainment.
As the evening advances towards midnight, major locations in Hanoi, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City are broadcast live. Citizens stream into the streets to fully savor the moment.
Like any country around the globe, the final seconds of the previous year drifts by as the crowd counts down in chorus.
Splendid fireworks streak, splutter and scatter across the veil of the night at the close of the countdown. A pre-recorded speech by the nation’s president is then played on all channels, sending sincere and solemn wishes to all Vietnamese.
The Lunar New Year’s Eve has always been the centerpiece of Tet, when traditions are followed, family members are together, and good things are to come.
Tuan Anh Nguyen is a Junior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.
A tray of offerings for the Year-End worship (Phuong Phan/YJI)
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