Lunar New Year or Tet is the biggest festival of the year. All business stop and people have at least 4 days off to come back home joining their family to celebrate. It’s the time of family reunion, visiting friends and of course good food and lots of drinks.

 

But Tet is not only for visiting our relations and drinking. It is also the time for many interesting activities that are believed to bring good luck for the New Year. Here are some of the traditional ritual that Vietnamese people (mostly in the Northern part) do during Tet.

 

Visiting pagodas the early days of New Year

Vietnam a Buddist country of almost half of the nation are Buddhism believers ( or those who think they are buddhists). Visiting pagodas at the begining of the New Year has become an important part of one's spiritual life. Vietnamese Buddhists go to pagodas the year round. But they tend to do it more at the beginning of the year. Tet is the sign of the new time, new hopes and new desires for everyone. Thus Buddists visit pagodas with many wishies of happiness, sucess and peace.

 

 

Vietnamese people believe that visiting pagodas in the early days of New Year is not only for wishes but also for ones to merge into religious atmosphere and to leave hardship of life behind. Going into a pagoda and smelling the incense will ease our pains and help to build serenity. 

 

 

 

When visiting pagodas, Buddhists often bring flowers, fruits or sweets as offering with a strong belief that to give is to receive. They also put money into donation boxes or leave money around the atlas. While giving offering is absolutely fine, leaving money everywhere in the pagoda is considered to be not appropriate. It’s against Buddha’s words of a simple life without any material desires. But sadly this problem tends to increase these days.

 

Giving out lucky money

 

When I was a little boy I counted every single day until the New Year. As I would have lucky money from people around then I could my sweet and toys. During the New Year, Vietnamese people give old people and children lucky money in red envelops, with the wish that old people will have good health and young kids will grow fast. This is a nice tradition that has been kept for many years. When you start to have red envelops for New Year, that’s the sign people think you are old (and respectable). But when kids grow up enough they will stop to receive money from everyone.

 

Picking some green buds

 

 

Nothing can grow as strongly as trees. When spring comes, all plants on earth grow buds which is a sign of new life and strength. Basing on that, Vietnamese people often pick some green buds from some trees around the house or at the local pagoda with the hope that people can have the strong growth of trees. They would pick any small branch that the first see, bring that home and place on the altar. Banyan, fig, acacia…are believed to be the good pick that bring good luck for the family. Meanwhile green buds from pine tree, daisy, bamboo, Ochna are believed to bring happiness, good health and joy to the family.

 

 

In the past, those green buds had to be picked from trees in local pagoda’s garden. Now it is a lot more flexible in thoughts that they can just pick it from any trees nearby. Some family even but sugarcane or some small green bonsai trees so they can avoid picking branches from trees. These green buds are kept until the last day of the New Year and they will be burnt with the votive papers.

 

Receiving lucky calligraphy from an old master

 

 

In the past, old masters were those who studied a lot and had a respectable knowledge but didn’t work for the kings. At the New Year, Vietnamese people came to those old masters and asked for some lucky calligraphy written carefully and beautifully on “Gió” paper. This nice tradition reflects the respect of educations and its ambassadors- teachers or masters of Vietnamese people.

 

 

Recently, this tradition is coming back. During the New Year many Hanoi people go to the Temple of Literature and the space near Ho Giam ( Giam Lake in front of Van Mieu ) to ask for lucky calligraphy. There are writing stalls with master (sometimes not very old) willing to write any kinds of good words that asked. In the past this activity was free but nowadays people are expected to pay some money for the words to be written. Common words are the things that they wish for New Year like Happiness, Luck, Success, Peace…or words to remind them to work harder or to be a better person like: Patient, Be Strong, Be Faithful…

 

Extra reading:

 

- Traditional iconic food for Tet: Banh Chung

 

- Tet Celebration

 

 

By Pham Tuyen