JT is a 40 year old Vietnamese woman who lives in Arcadia, California. She grew up in her home country and immigrated to the US as a teenager. Here is a Vietnamese tradition she remembers from her childhood:
“The Vietnamese have certain holidays that are, in some ways, like the Jewish tradition of Passover, were we don’t eat certain foods and eat others that are special to that holiday. One of the most important celebrations is the Full Moon. I was very young, but I remember that during the full moon, we would go to the Buddhist temple, where there would be tables and tables of vegetarian food- we didn’t eat meat during this time.
Who was usually cooking that food?
They didn’t always cook it there. You could have vegetarian foods from restaurants- during that time, every restaraunt will have the vegetarian dishes. It’s becoming more common now for restaurants in Vietnam to have vegetarian dishes all the time, too.
Do you know why you celebrated the full moon?
I remember that it wasn’t every full moon- some full moons were more special than the others. We used a lunar calendar, not like the American Calendar- it’s the Chinese version. The full moon of the “month of 7″, for example, was very significant. But the biggest one was the full moon of January- this is called Tet Nguyen Tieu- was the most important because it was the first full moon of the New Year. Everyone would go to temple then and pray for good luck in the New Year.
Is this something you still celebrate?
I usually do, but it’s inconvenient- we do it in our own way, buying more fruits and vegetables instead of eating meats around the full moon. We do it at home. Most Buddhist families we know do this too.
My thoughts: This piece is interesting because it shows how a Chinese tradition like the lunar calendar has spread to other parts of Asia as well were the festival changes to reflect that particular culture. This piece also shows that many different cultures have similar beliefs when it comes to the concept of the New Year, such as wishing for good luck in the year to come. This may imply that Vietnam is a future-oriented culture- the informant also told me that Vietnam has been ranked the most optimistic country in the world!
The informant noted that each Buddhist family havstheir “own way” of celebrating the full moon. If it’s inconvenient to go to an official celebration at a temple or to go to a Vietnamese restaurant, the family will alter their eating patterns at home. This shows how each family incorporates their own family folk customs with official religion as well.
This folklore was told to me by my father. He immigrated to America 40 years prior to this date. Having grown up in Korea and then having moved to the United States, he had experienced a slight culture shock. In living here for so long, he essentially gave up a part of his culture as a Korean-American because it was just so unused. I had asked him how I old I was in Korea because they had told me while I was there that I couldn’t drink yet because I was off by a couple of months. In America, I’m off by 3 years. So I asked him what system people used to measure age in Korea, and this was the answer he gave me. I just sat there and listened as he recounted the traditions that he used to follow in an older generation.
Eastern age is different from western age. It’s counted differently. Asian people actually count the 9 months in the womb as 1 year, so when a baby is born, it is already called 1 year old. After that, the birthday is no longer really important. It is still celebrated as a legal day of when your age increases, but that is not the traditional way of measuring age. Actually, you gain one year on the New Year’s Day every year starting from when you are born. As a result, ages can be quite varied. Children who were born on February 9th this year were considered one. However, as soon as it became February 10th, which was when Seollal was, they were considered 2. They are only a few days old legally, but in the Asian culture, they are two. As a result, two standards of measuring age are used. One is used in everyday life in terms of people interactions and fortune telling, which is a part of Asian life. It is rare that people will ask for your legal age, unless you are doing things that involve the government and whatnot. In terms of trivial matters, then it is only your eastern age that matters. The other method utilizes the Western way of measuring age, which is you turn one a full year after you leave your mother’s womb, and is used for legal purposes. This tradition is actually starting to die out in Asia when people no longer recognize the lunar calendar as well. Some people still do celebrate their age on the New Years, however, so it does have some people who still practice this. This tradition only really applies in Asia, however. In coming to the United States, everybody had to rethink about how old they were because non Asians don’t utilize the same system to count age as we do. All of a sudden, everybody’s age dropped by one to two years because they were no longer considered one at birth, and they gained age on their literal birthday rather than the coming of the new lunar year.
I thought that this system was very interesting. It uses a system ultimately very different from the Gregorian calendar that is currently in place. It is not so applicable to me because I live in America, where we use the western way of counting age. However, when I talk to fellow Asian students, they often ask for my Asian age rather than my real age. That is really the only chance that I have to embrace my Korean culture in terms of time. So in a sense, it is important to me because it is something that I can do. However, in the broadest sense, this is an interesting practice that seems to have stemmed from a different origin entirely in comparison to the system that non Asians use to measure time.
A long time ago, 13 animals lived in harmony. The 13 animals were the rat, cat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. The king organized a race, telling the animals that they must compete in the race. In this race, the animals had to cross a fast flowing river and get to the other side to receive their prize, but there were only 12 prizes available. The rat and cat were really good friends, but were worried that they would not finish the race because they were both poor swimmers. The two came up with a plan. They went to the ox and admired the ox’s strength, asking if the ox would be kind enough to let them ride on its back across the river. The ox agreed. The race began and the ox quickly took the lead with the rat and cat sitting on his shoulders. When the ox neared the bank of the river, the rat pushed the cat into the river. The cat struggled to swim but was washed away by the currents. Then, the rat decided to jump off the shoulder of the ox, taking first place. The king gave the rat its reward, which was that the first year of the zodiac would be named after it. The ox received second place and got the second year of the zodiac named after him. Then the tiger crossed the bank and got the third year named after it. Then the rabbit appeared and got the fourth year named after it. Then the dragon appeared and got the fifth year named after it. Then the snake appeared and got the sixth year named after it. Then the horse appeared and got the seventh year named after it. Then the goat appeared and got the eighth year named after it. Then the monkey appeared and got the ninth year named after it. Then the rooster appeared and got the tenth year named after it. Then the dog appeared and got the eleventh year named after it. And then, in last place the pig appeared, slowly trudging along, and got the twelfth year named after it. Crawling out of the water, the cat appeared, but did not receive a prize. Since then, cats and rats have always been enemies. And that is how the animals of the Chinese Zodiac came to be.
My informant first heard this myth from his parents around Chinese New Year. That time of year lends itself to this story as it serves as an explanation for the ordering of the years in the Chinese Zodiac and is the basis for the personality profiles of people born in the different years.. This myth is fairly wide spread and has a number of different forms. Here I have included my informants favorite version, but there are others that include why the dragon. This myth emphasizes intelligence and cunning over brute strength, as the meek rat is ultimately triumphant. It also seems to condone betrayal, as the rat is rewarded despite his actions.