Culture Stories: Tet, Vietnamese Lunar New Year

Mua Lan, Hoi An, Vietnam

Start the year anew, again.

Tết Nguyên Đán, or Tết for short, means the “first morning of the first day of the new year.” It’s an annual celebration of parades, dancing, and worship lasting up to seven days passed down centuries ago from Chinese rulers. During Tết, the Vietnamese express their respect and remembrance of their ancestors, and welcome the New Year with family.

People believe what you do on the dawn of Tết will determine your fate for the whole year. So, people are kind, settle arguments, and clean and refurbish their homes to rid themselves of the previous year’s bad luck. Home is incomplete without quality time spent with family eating a large meal including banh chung (square glutinous rice cake), and decorating a Tết tree. The tree symbolizes wealth, vitality, love, passion and joy. And everyone wears new clothing for a fresh start. Women wear Vietnam’s national dress, the áo dài, while men wear similar loosely fitted tunics.

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During parades, everyone makes as much noise as possible using firecrackers, drums, bells, gongs, and simple wooden instruments to ward off evil spirits. Men in Mua Lan costume (a unicorn that symbolizes strength, happiness, and prosperity) dance for donations collected in the unicorn’s mouth (visible towards end of video below).

Original Tet 2017 video by: Diễn Đàn LSR Sức Trẻ (video above has been edited by Uncoverd LLC) 

Ancestral altars are also decorated with a “five-fruit tray” known as Mam Ngu Qua, which may consist of bananas, finger citrons, watermelons, oranges, kumquats, coconuts, apples, persimmons or tomatoes, and chilis. Want the protection of supernatural powers and ancestors? Include green bananas and a finger citron. Add watermelons for fertility, and kumquats and persimmons for wealth and prosperity. Altogether, this tray and burning of votive papers expresses admiration and gratitude to Heaven and Earth and ancestors, and demonstrates aspirations of prosperity.

Five Fruit Tray on Ancestral Alter for Tet

Ancestral alter decorated with five fruit trays

Experience Tết for yourself. On February 5th at 1pm, join thousands on the streets in Chinatown, Manhattan to celebrate Chinese New Year. Remember to smile, be kind and wear red for good fortune! Happy New Year (of the red rooster)!

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