Folk Ritual/Festival Celebration

“On the last day of the Vietnamese lunar calendar year, around early February, we would get up early and help our parents clean up the house to prepare for T?t.  My sister and I would go to the market with my mom, and we would help with two or three big baskets with groceries to prepare for the feast and ceremony offerings to the ancestors to give thanks.  We’d get home in the afternoon and get together to clean the house very clean inside and out, and clean up the dust because the dirty house means the ancestors won’t come and visit.  We cleaned up ourselves while the parents prepared food and set up a big table like an altar, and set up food there like moon cake, rice cake, Vietnamese traditional New Year’s sweets and fruits, especially watermelon which is considered the traditional New Year’s fruit.  Around midnight, we would gather around and pray to the ancestors and give thanks for the year that’s gone by with all we’ve had, and pray for the coming year with luck.  When the clock strikes midnight, my dad brings out a lot of fireworks and we played with them to ring in the New Year.  Then, the adults mingle and talk about the New Year and congratulate each other while the kids go to sleep.  Most times the kids couldn’t sleep because they were too excited about the lì-xì they would get the next day.”

While living in Vietnam as a young boy, my father picked up on these traditional T?t, or Vietnamese New Year, rituals after witnessing them year after year.  Just as children in America gain understanding of rituals performed during holidays like Christmas or the Fourth of July, my father and his siblings realized the importance of celebrating Vietnamese New Year, the most important holiday in Vietnam, with family members.  Proving again Dundes’ idea that most other cultures besides America are past-oriented rather than future-oriented, these rituals reveal a deep sense of love and respect for ancestors of past generations.  However, this is not to say that thought for the future is disregarded; my father mentioned that prayer for a lucky new year was an essential part of the holiday ritual.

Like in other Asian cultures, the emphasis on family ties and togetherness in the Vietnamese culture is exemplified most during these celebrations for the New Year.  Even before the celebration started, my father and his siblings would work together with their parents to ensure a successful celebration.  Everyone had his or her own duties and contributions to make, whether it was cooking or cleaning.  Special foods—like the moon cake which represents the beginning of a new lunar calendar year—are even reserved for the occasion, and my father said that he and the other children would look forward most to those treats which they would only get to eat during this time of the year.  Also, unlike the American tradition of only celebrating the night before the first day of the new year, Vietnamese New Year rituals continue to take place on the days following the first day of the new year.  Lì-xì, or red envelopes filled with “lucky” money, were given to each child in the family the day after, similar to the American tradition of giving presents to family members on Christmas morning, perhaps after celebrations on Christmas Eve.  Also, these rituals performed during the Vietnamese New Year are basically identical to those of Chinese New Year, and both are celebrated on the same day.

My father says that now when he celebrates Vietnamese New Year in America with his family members, it gives him a sense of comfort and familiarity.  In continuing his family’s traditions and passing them down to my brother and me, he feels that he is instilling in us a lasting concept of heritage that we can eventually pass on to our own children.

Annotation: Welch, Patricia Bjaaland.  Chinese New Year. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, pg. 37.  Parallel to those of Vietnamese New Year, the folk rituals of Chinese New Year include giving children “their first red packets of ‘lucky money’ at some point on New Year’s Eve, after New Year greetings have been given and dinner consumed.”