Happy New Year! I know it’s already late January, but for those of us who celebrate Tet, the merriments have just begun. Tet is the most celebrated holiday in Vietnamese culture that rings in the beginning of the new year. However, this differs from Western culture in that our new year starts with the first full moon of the new year. 2017’s Vietnamese New Year starts on January 28th.
I’ve shared a few family Tet recipes in the past including Banh Tet and Che Dau Trang with Stone Soup readers, but this year I wanted to share a little more on the traditions and happenings around the holiday itself. As I mentioned, Tet is arguably the most anticipated Vietnamese holiday and families prepare greatly for its arrival. This includes cooking and cleaning in the days leading up to the start of Tet. Most families continue Tet celebrations anywhere from one day up to a full week, so everything is done prior to the start of Tet so as not to interrupt the good times.
As I think back to childhood memories, Tet revelries immediately stick out to me. From the loud firecrackers to playing “Uncle Bao” to the red envelopes, Tet is a lively and joyful time. Aside from partying, everyone is on their best behavior to ensure the new year is ushered in with health, wealth and happiness.
As kids, we grew up in a part of Florida with a large Vietnamese population, so we would have a family meal together before heading out to partake in local Tet festivals. We were lucky as our grandmother lived close, too, so she would spend days putting together a decadent meal featuring all of our favorite Vietnamese dishes.
Before leaving to watch the captivating dragon dances and firecrackers, we would gather around my uncle as he held out red envelopes for us to choose from. The red envelopes would be filled with money, but most importantly, symbolize the theme of Tet; happiness, luck and celebration. We’d also use any change we brought with us to play the new year game, Bầu cua cá cọp (squash, crab, fish, tiger). As the actual name for the game and one of our uncles is similar, we called this game Uncle Bao. It’s a dice game that revolves around placing bets with our change on which animal we think will appear on the rolled dice. It’s a fun and addictive way to pass the time during Tet.
As my grandmother has now passed away, we often recall Tet memories as some of our favorite, since she really gave it her all to make it such an enjoyable holiday for us. We’ve carried on the recipes she taught us with a few modern twists I think she would be pleased with. I think it’s important to embrace these cultural celebrations because it’s a great way to share a piece of yourself with others who may be familiar with the holiday or may have never heard of it.
Do you celebrate Tet? If so, I’d love to hear if any of our family’s traditions rang true in your home, too. If not, what are some of your favorite new year memories with your family? Thanks for reading and I wish you all a Chúc Mừng Năm Mới (Happy New Year) in 2017!