It’s only a number on the calendar but yet it has a profound effect on us.
Psychologically, Lunar New Year’s Day or the beginning of Tet in the Vietnamese lunar calendar, Tuesday 5th of February, marks new beginnings: a chance to start again, to wash away the troubles of the previous year and make plans for the new one. A moment to reflect and a time to look forward and press on with our goals and observe traditions – I think it is funny how many people say “I’m so glad last year is over…”
In Australia, my home country, it’s the middle of summer and we often mark the day with BBQs, outdoor events or that much-needed sleep in! I do feel sorry for parents around this time as the kids have energy but everyone else just wants to chill out. Fortunately, Tet is frequently celebrated back in hometowns, catching up with news of relatives, family and friends, so there’s always a handy grandparent to look after the little ones.
The first day of the New Year is very important in Vietnamese culture. The wealth or popularity of the first person to visit the house on the first day is believed to bring particular good luck to the occupants so there is a pecking order!
The first day is mostly to visit the paternal side of the family. Many also see close friends, exchange gifts, then visit the pagodas to pray for luck and prosperity; notably young students hoping to get good marks in the coming year. But since most teachers grade their pupils as excellent or very good, I don’t think you’ll have any problems!
The second day is for the maternal side of the family as well as in-law visits and the third usually for teachers and distant relatives, with a lot of traveling around.
Personally, no one visits me on the first day which is great for me as I get to sleep in until midday! Also no visitors mean no bills! Lucky me!
The Vietnamese go to great lengths to secure luck at any time but Tet is the biggy. Getting rid of bad luck by painting up and cleaning the house and settling disputes before Tet is common as well as the usual paper burning and offerings to ancestors and heaven. My dog reminds me that this is a good time to give him a new pillow by chewing up the old one…
The days after are marked with festivals and lots of lovely neighborhood karaoke parties. One of my neighbors has just built a new house and is now setting up the white and pink bunting for the party. The timing has to be just right to be lucky for them. I’ll have my headphones on stand-by, just in case.
One of the nicest aspects of the Tet holiday, particularly the first few days, is everyone dressed in their finest, newest clothes. It makes such a welcome change from the atypical ninja motorbike outfits, torn scruffy jeans, and long cotton shirts. Kids, however, have to suffer the indignities of parental fashion sense. Seeing young boys dressed up like butlers and little girls like cosplay dolls is just weird to me.
In my neck of the Vietnamese woods, Ba Na Park in Da Nang and checking out the Hue Imperial Citadel are high on the locals’ list of things to do over the holiday too. If the weather is sunny, you can bet the beach restaurants do a roaring trade and family dinners, especially seafood barbeques, are really popular.
Don’t be surprised if the prices go up around this time of year too. Believe me; the locals suffer this even more so than foreigners. Every year the tourism authorities remind businesses not to do this, and every year, the venues ignore them – so it’s become a custom, right? So in keeping with the holiday spirit, take it all in your stride, smile and remember not to come back there next time.
I’m not mentioning much about New Year resolutions and goals as that would take another article to cover. As usual, my Vietnamese friends will say they want to get fit when they are so skinny that I tell them to resolve to eat more. My expat friends simply plan to continue having fun in Vietnam. I think the expats will win on points.
Whatever you’ve got planned from the first day onwards, remember the golden rule of Vietnam – ride on both sides of the street, laugh at everything, get the best deal you can and keep cheering the Vietnamese football team!
Besides…it’s the first day of the rest of your life, anyway!