New Year Rituals in Vietnam

New Year Rituals in Vietnam

Lunar New Year or Tet is the biggest festival of the year. All business stops and people have at least 4 days off to come back home joining their families 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 rituals that Vietnamese people (mostly in the Northern part) do during Tet.

Visiting pagodas in the early days of the New Year

Vietnam is a Buddhist country almost half of the nation are Buddhist believers ( or those who think they are Buddhists). Visiting pagodas at the beginning 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 a new time, new hopes, and new desires for everyone. Thus Buddhists visit pagodas with many wishes for happiness, success, and peace.

Vietnamese people believe that visiting pagodas in the early days of New Year is not only for wishes but also for one to merge into a religious atmosphere and to leave the 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 offerings 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 an offering is absolutely fine, leaving money everywhere in the pagoda is considered to be inappropriate. 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 envelopes, 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 envelopes for New Year, that’s a 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. Based 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 strong growth of trees. They would pick any small branch that they first saw, bring that home, and place it on the altar. Banyan, fig, and acacia…are believed to be the good picks that bring good luck to the family. Meanwhile, green buds from pine trees, daisy, bamboo, and 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 the local pagoda’s garden. Now it is a lot more flexible in thoughts that they can just pick it from any trees nearby. Some families 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 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 education 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 masters (sometimes not very old) willing to write any kind of good words that are 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, and Peace…or words to remind them to work harder or to be a better person like Patient, Strong, Faithful…

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