The informant is a 20 year old, Vietnamese American female. She is a junior at the University of Southern California, but was born in Boston, MA. Both her parents are Vietnamese and were born in Vietnam.
Over lunch, the informant told me about the Vietnamese New Year celebration that occurs at the time of the lunar New Year, the same as the Chinese New Year. The particular celebration that my informant is familiar with starts a week before the actual day of the New Year. This week is devoted to cleaning the entire house. Then, families make a tree with yellow leaves, a mai tree, and hang red envelopes from it, which contain money. When the New Year finally arrives, the envelopes are opened and the recipients get their money. Traditionally, married couples are the ones that give out the money, and little kids are the ones that receive it. Before a child gets his or her envelope however, he or she must say, “Happy New Year, may the New Year bless you” as a type of chant almost. The envelopes are red because it is the color of luck and is meant to promise a lucky year for the recipient.
While this is all my informant had to say about the celebration, I had a few more possible interpretations for elements of it. First of all, I’d never heard that cleaning the house was part of a New Year’s celebration. The informant mentioned that the Vietnamese traditions borrow a lot from Chinese traditions, so maybe the idea of cleaning a week before the celebration has to do with the fact that seven is a very important number in the Chinese belief system. After thinking about it some more, the only conclusion I could come to was that starting off the New Year with a clean house was to indicate a fresh start in life for the following year. Also, the importance of the mai tree in the celebration may similarly reference the idea of newness, or maybe even Spring, which will arrive shortly after the start of the New Year.