Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tet in Vietnam

By far the biggest holiday in Vietnam occurs during the Lunar New Year and is called Tet. We've kind of gleaned information from here and there about the holiday, but in reality we had no idea what was going on or why. Some places/people describe it as "New Year's, Christmas, and your birthday all rolled into one huge party" and that does seem true. There is gift giving, lots of partying, visiting family and friends, and a huge celebration and lots of customs regarding the new year. The holiday is so big that it has 4 days of holidays on the calendar, and even Gameloft closed for almost a week (actually, since the days took up Monday through Thursday, so few people would come in on Friday that they did close for an entire week). Even the majority of restaurants and grocery stores close, a fact we had been warned about back in July when we first arrived. So, we planned to do what was recommended and leave the country. Unfortunately that led to even less of an understanding of the holiday, so I recommend looking it up online if you want the full picture.

The first things we noticed about the coming holiday were the lights and decorations going up EVERYWHERE. The city put up a lot of light displays, flower displays, and spent a month building a huge sidewalk display along the river.
Here are some of the things we noticed about preparations and celebrations, I hope it is correct but I don't really know, so take it with a grain of salt (kind of like how there are basic celebrations for Christmas but every family is different, etc):
Most Vietnamese travel to their hometown or where their family reside for the holiday, where they spend at least one full day with family and have designated days where they visit friends and teachers. So, a lot of things close and have irregular schedules. It took 2 weeks to get most places open, and about a month to get back to life as usual.
It is considered bad luck to cook during Tet, so the stores are PACKED for the few weeks before Tet as everyone gathers supplies and cooks in the days before it starts. The photo above shows some of the decorations up at one of the local supermarkets, Big C. (Hint: 2013 is the year of the Snake in the Chinese Zodiac, so that is why there are snake decorations everywhere)
There were awesome shops set up on every corner where people would sell large potted yellow flowers, which are lucky for the new year, as well as small potted trees with brightly orange colored citrus fruits. I don't remember the name of the trees but the idea was that you buy the one with the best fruit and display it in your home for luck for the next year. We saw this tree in a local diner where we get Bahn Mi sandwiches (sandwiches on a baguette, mostly eggs) - I thought it was cool as they decorated the tree with lights and the little red and gold trinkets that say "Chuc Mung Nam Moi" (Happy New Year) and other wishes of luck.
The street shops were really awesome to see with all of the trinkets/decorations for the new year. It was awesome, and we bought a bunch of the little cheap ones to decorate with and send home.
Before we both left town for Tet, we had breakfast with our Vietnamese friend Thui, who is totally sweet, and gave her a "Tet basket" for her family for the holidays. We aren't sure really how it works, but it seems like they assemble gift baskets to give people during the holidays; they are filled with cookies, treats, and usually some type of sparkling juice (which tasted funny to us), wine, or liquor. They vary in price from 150K  VND (about $7) to about 3 million VND ($150 USD) depending on the contents.  Thui bought us breakfast and gave us the awesome yellow flowers pictured below, saying it is traditional and lucky to have yellow flowers in your house for Tet.
So yeah... it's not a Christmas tree in the photo, with Lucky Money envelopes on it from Thui and later some of the red and gold trinkets from the store, it was our Tet Tree :P Lucky Money is also a very important part of the holiday. Basically, the tradition is to give your friends and family money in the various-styles of little red and gold envelopes. Members of the older generation give them to kids and youth, and you can give them to friends at work as well. I remember getting one from my boss at Whistle Wok in American Fork (a Chinese restaurant) when I worked there as a teenager - mostly I remember having no idea why we got the HUGE bonus of $20 (huge to a poor teenager mind you), but I was happy anyway. Michael gave lucky money to all of his design team at work too - a $1 bill in USD, it took forever to get them from the bank, but it worked out and a lot of them really appreciated the gesture. Thui was really sweet and gave us some as well in the cute snake envelopes above.
The huge display along the river wasn't done until we got back from our Tet trip to Thailand, but luckily we saw it the last night they had it up and it was really amazing. There were huge statues and art displays for probably close to half a mile, it was awesome. Here are some of the highlights as not all of the photos turned out - we were planning on getting a video the next day but alas, it was mostly gone by then, enjoy!

1 comment:

Laura said...

I love learning about this country! Thank you for sharing.