Monday February 8, 2016 marks the first day of the Lunar New Year, ushering in the Year of the Monkey.
Traditionally, from late January to mid-February, countries like China, Hong Kong, Korea, Thailand and, of course, Vietnam, celebrate Lunar New Year. Called Tết in Vietnamese, Lunar New Year is Vietnam’s most important holiday when families come together from all corners of the country.
In the weeks before Tet, Vietnamese cities literally bloom with heavily flowering trees and shrubs that signal prosperity and pots of yellow and red flowers, the colors of gold and luck.
Families stay up through the night to make Tet delicacies like bánh chưng, sticky rice cakes filled with meat and beans to represent Vietnam’s staples, which are first offered up to ancestors before being enjoyed by all.
Red lì xì envelopes filled with “lucky money” are gifted to children and the elderly and wishes for a wonderful new year are shared by all!
The Vietnamese are also very superstitious and there are lots of things to do and not do around Lunar New Year. Here’s our illustrated guide to some common Tet superstitions!
1. Spring cleaning! Just before Tet, families will take the time to clean the house, garden and altar to make sure everything is neat and organized. During the first three days of Tet, sweeping the house is a no-no because you’ll also sweep your luck and good fortune away.
2. Breaking bad! In addition to being tidy, Vietnamese will be careful around breakable items during Tet. Breakage equates to damage or loss (much like the Western superstition of breaking a mirror equaling seven years of bad luck), so no butter fingers during the holidays, taking care to be extra careful with bowls and plates.
3. Put your grief on hold. Tet is time for celebration, so if your family experiences a death during Tet, you’ll be expected to put your sorrows aside for the time being. If someone dies just before Tet, families will rush to have the funeral before the first day of the year. If it’s on the first day of Tet, they’ll likely choose to postpone the funeral for a few days.
4. Be colorful! White and black clothing are no-no’s during Tet because those colors are often worn at funerals by the grieving. Instead, put on your fanciest, most colorful threads and join in the fun!
5. Make peace, not war. The Vietnamese believe that losing your temper or shouting bodes ill for the upcoming year, so by all means, try to avoid swearing and fighting. Wipe the slate clean and be extra nice to everyone!
6. It’s elemental! Fire and water are considered lucky symbols: fire because it’s red, the color of luck, and water because an urn full of water symbolizes fortune and bounty. The Vietnamese also say that “money flows like water”, so homes will make sure they have plenty of water and stoke their fires so as not to run out. If you run out of either, that’s a bad omen, and definitely don’t go asking your neighbor to borrow any!
7. VIP guests only! The Vietnamese believe that the first person to enter your home in the new year can either bring luck or misfortune, so they’ll arrange ahead of time for the richest or luckiest person they know to come calling on the first day of the new year. Unless you’ve been specifically invited, avoid going around and visiting others on the morning of the first day. If you’re unsure, visit only family or very close friends.
8. Money out, money in. Many businesses who are owed money will take advantage of Tet to collect on all their debts. It’s believed that borrowing or lending money during Tet is unlucky. Borrowing means you’ll be poor all year whereas lending (money or other items) means you’re giving away your luck.
9. You are what you eat! What you eat during Lunar New Year is also very important. Some foods are viewed as bad luck, like dog or duck. And other animals are avoided because of their characteristics. For example, shrimp swim backwards, so eating shrimp in the new year means your plans will likely stall or even regress. So stick with traditional “lucky” foods to ensure a prosperous Year of the Monkey!
10. Be happy! No one wants to be around a downer during the happiest time of the year. So put your worries aside and join in the fun!
These stills were taken from a humorous animated short called “10 Things NOT To Do in Lunar New Year” by Saigon-based Duc Tran and Tu Bui.
Victoria Hotels & Resorts in Vietnam are each putting their own spin on Tet celebrations this year, with lion dances, gala buffets featuring traditional Tet delicacies, lucky envelopes and much more. See our Tet promotions to join in on the fun, making the Year of the Monkey one to remember!