New Years is a very important occasion in Vietnam. The date varies every year because it is determined by the Lunar Calendar. Nguyen Thien Nga who grew up in Saigon explained to me how her family used to celebrate and bring in the New Year.
New Years symbolizes getting rid of what has occurred in the past year. Everyone goes to great lengths to make everything spotless and makes the occasion incredibly upbeat and happy. The house is very ornately decorated. There are huge bouquets of flowers, and large bowls of fruit that fill the house and represent a healthy new year. Particularly the flowers tend to be red and this represents the color of royalty and wealth. In addition children are given red envelopes with monetary gifts inside. It is very essential that the money is brand new in order to have a good new year and as a result all the adults go to the bank to get new money. The older the person is, the more money he or she gives.
It is also very important to make amends and settle debts before the New Year comes around. It is bad luck if one does not repay a debt from the past year. If a debt is not repaid before the New Year than the person who is owed money is meant to approach the debtor about the money owed and bad luck will occur as a result of this. Luck is a prominent part in the three day celebration and people follow many specifications and put great consideration and thought into details to try and ensure a good New Year.
A traditional food eaten on the occasion is sticky rice that is placed in banana leaves. It originated from an event that took place many years ago. Back in the day there existed a king who had eighteen sons and before he died, he wanted to decide which one of them was apt to take over his position. He commanded all the boys to prepare a special dish and interpret it. They went out into the mountains for inspiration. One of the boys chose to use banana leaves which he arranged as a square. He filled the interior with sticky rice and meat and then folded it up. He called it Banh Chung. In addition he made a round, sticky steamed cake made of rice powder and sweet beans. It is called Banh Giay. The brothers called him foolish as they felt these creations were too earthy. However, he was selected as the father to be the next in line as his items were very affordable and it was within everyones reach to make them. These food items have been passed down since and are even made it today. The round cake represents the sun and the square dish is symbolic of the earth.
Since immigrating to San Diego, for practical purposes, Nguyen Thien Nga celebrates the New Year on the weekend closest to the Lunar date whereas in Vietnam it is a three day celebration where everything closes down for the occasion.
I think it is important to continue the rituals of ones hometown even at after
immigrating to a new country. Obviously it is more difficult to uphold all the customs as the United States does not give three days off to celebrate the holiday but it still essential to uphold traditions as it sustains ones background and culture.