Vietnamese New Year Gift Ritual

Informant Data: The informant is a Health Promotion and Disease Prevention major here at the University of Southern California. She is Vietnamese and is exposed to Vietnamese culture and traditions through her parents; she describes herself as more passive than active in regards to Vietnamese traditions.

Item: The ritual of receiving money from relatives on Vietnamese New Year. The following quotations are direct transcriptions of my dialogue with the informant, while the additional information provided is paraphrased.

Contextual Data: The informant has participated in this ritual for as long as she can recall. She explains it as: “On Vietnamese New Years, its tradition to get money in a red envelope, sometimes they have pretty pictures on the front. But you can’t just get it; usually the elders give it to the kids, so I get it from my aunts, uncles, parents, etc. But you can’t just have it handed to you. For example if it’s my dad giving me a red envelope, I have to say this little script where you speak in Vietnamese and you say “Happy New Year Father, may you have good health and happiness and wealth in the next year.” That was always really hard for me because I could never speak Vietnamese well, so it would always take me 5 minutes to say one sentence.” When asked why the envelopes are red, the informant replied “in Vietnamese culture, red is a symbol of good luck and fortune. Kind-of fitting for a gift of money.” When asked what significance this ritual holds for her, she says “Honestly, most of the Vietnamese cultural things I partake in are because of my mom, she requires them of us [me and my siblings]. I don’t ask any questions, I just go along with the customs.”

Another version of this informant’s Vietnamese New Year ritual was published in the Hartford Courant newspaper (see citation below). In the article, the author details the gift of money, similarly placed in “lucky” red envelopes; however, they are hung from the branches of a tree with thread, unlike my informant’s direct exchange with her elders. While my informant mentions decorative pictures, the author of the article describes fortunes, as well as candy, alongside the monetary gift.

Sureck-Mei, Shana. “Vietnamese New Year.” Hartford Courant 02 Feb. 1998: A.3. Web. Apr. 2013.