Tag Archives: Lunar New Year

Vietnamese New Year

This is a conversation with my friend, identified as C, about Vietnamese New Year. I am identified as IC in this transcription.

IC: When is vietnamese new year? What is it called—is there a vietnamese name for it?

C: It’s called Tết and takes place on the first day of the first month of the lunar year, so usually late Jan or early February

IC: What kind of foods do you eat?

C: My family doesn’t celebrate super traditionally. We usually eat potluck style with a mix of foods. Someone usually will bring a pig, and there’s Gỏi cuốn, which is spring roll with peanut sauce. Also, there’s Chả giò, which is basically an egg roll, Bánh cuốn, rice flour with meat and Chả lụa, which is pork sausage. Most of them are eaten with Nước mam, a diluted fish sauce. We usually have that with a mix of maybe duck, vegetables like green beans or Brussel sprouts or a casserole, sometimes potatoes, a fried rice dish, fried chicken wings.

IC: Is there a reason for eating certain foods?

C: No, not that I know of. There might be but my family isn’t super traditional so I’m not sure.

IC: Are there any activities that you do?

C: Yeah, the older people give the red envelopes with money to younger ones. We call it lì xì. I think there are also other activities that people traditionally do, but we don’t do them so I’m not sure.

IC: That’s cool, Korea has a similar tradition where elders give money to younger ones.

C: Yeah, it’s probably a similar tradition in Asian cultures.

IC: Are there traditional Vietnamese clothes that you wear?

C: My grandma wears the Vietnamese dress called áo dài and people like the colour red, which represents good luck.

Background:

My informant is a 22-year-old half-Vietnamese and half-American who was my roommate last year. Although she doesn’t celebrate it very traditionally as she mentioned, she agreed to answer a few questions when I mentioned this project and asked her about it.

Context:

This was collected over a casual conversation on FaceTime, as I couldn’t meet with her in person since she went back home to the Bay Area amidst the current pandemic situation.

Thoughts:

I didn’t know anything about Vietnamese New Year and hearing about the foods they eat and traditional clothing they wear was interesting to hear. I found the similarity of the money envelope in Korean New Year celebration fascinating. It shows that while traditions are different around the world, some of them have similar roots.

New Year’s, New Things

In China, there is a superstition where you cannot start a [Chinese] new year without new clothes and a clean house. Whatever you do on the first day of the year will be an indication of how your fortunes would be for the rest of the year. So people would try to look their best on the first day. They would make sure they get haircuts before the year ends because they don’t want to cut anything at the start of the year.

The practices the informant mentioned are traditional customs that are practiced every year during the Chinese New Year festival (which some may argue is a misnomer, because several places celebrate the same holiday). Having grown up in China, the informant practices this every year.

The Nián Monster

Every year on the eve of the Chinese New Year, the nian monster (年獸; nián shòu) comes out from hiding and eats people. I was told as a child to behave, or the nian monster would catch you and eat you. It has the head of a lion but the body of an ox. After all the chaos it causes, the people find out that the nian monster is afraid of loud noises and the color red. That is why we set off firecrackers every new year, because the firecrackers are red and the explosions scare the monster away. For the same reason, we wear red too, and give out red envelopes of money. If we put the red envelopes under our pillows, then we would avoid the nian monster and we would have good fortune for the rest of the year.

The practices the informant mentioned are traditional customs that are practiced every year during the Chinese New Year festival (which some may argue is a misnomer, because several places celebrate the same holiday). It is interesting to note that the nian monster is named after the Chinese term for “year”, as if the coming of a new year could be something symbolically destructive or at least menacing.

Belief – Vietnamese

On Lunar New Year, the family can not spend money to buy anything or sweep and clean the house.

My informant grew up with this belief as a child.  She first heard when she was five years old.  She was helping her mother set up for Lunar New Year.  The night before Lunar New Year, the whole family including my informant had to clean the entire house and make all the food for New Years.  If the family needed to buy anything, then the family had to buy everything on New Years Eve.

My informant instilled this belief to my family and every year before Lunar New Year, the house would be cleaned and the food would have been made.  My informant learned from her parents that on Lunar New Year, no one in the Vietnamese culture does anything productive.  It is a day for relaxation and a day to spend time with the family.  One of the reasons why a person can not clean or sweep the house on Lunar New Year is that it is believed when one sweeps the house; one is sweeping all the luck away for the New Year.  A person also does not spend any money on Lunar New Year because it will show that the upcoming year, that person or family will spend a lot of money instead of saving it.  A person is suppose to enjoy Lunar New Year with relaxation because relaxation symbolizes that the person will live the next year struggle free and live with no stress.  There are many beliefs that come with the Lunar New year.  Another belief is that a person is supposed to wear something red because red symbolizes luck.