Thursday, February 3, 2011

'Tet' ~ Vietnamese New Year

The new year in many Asian countries, including Vietnam, starts with the first month of the lunar calendar. It usually falls around the end of January or at the beginning of February.

'Tet' is the Vietnamese name for new year. I was told it comes from the French for head; 'la tĂȘte'. The story goes that during the time it was a French colony it was given this name, referring to the beginning of the year, or head of the year.

It’s a time of beginning and renewal and each person makes every effort they can to start the new year with a clean slate. Homes are cleaned and painted, old things are thrown away and new replacements bought and all debts paid off, old grievances dealt with and forgiveness is given.

They also have haircuts and make or buy a complete set of new clothes to start Tet with. They celebrate the new year with family and friends; gifts and lucky money are given and there is much feasting.

In towns the streets are lined with plants waiting to be purchased to take to ones business and home to add some of the auspicious colors; the reds, oranges and yellow-golds. Everyone should have a few different snacks available for guests; watermelon seeds, preserved cumquats, candied coconut, sweets or cookies. No matter how poor, everyone tries to have a plant and a few sweets and drinks.

Alcoholic drinks are overly plentiful pre-Tet, over Tet and post-Tet. Many men drink heavily and the accident and death rate climbs over this period. In principle this annual time of celebration, of giving gratitude and starting anew is a wonderful idea.

What does this mean in reality for the poor Vietnamese; the poor become poorer and more stressed. Stress abounds; arguments and physical abuse are more common and theft greater around Tet. This year theft of dogs has been greater too as dog meat sells for a high price to those with money; it's an old traditional dish to create warmth in the body in the very cold weather, which there has been a lot of recently. Exhaustion I see in the faces of many this Tet; not happy and relaxed ones, as they have been working more to earn extra to pay for all the expenses of Tet.

I enjoy the bounty of the brightly colored flowering shrubs and the flowers, but don't look forward to Tet, as I see increased suffering and not much joy amongst the poor. Tet is wonderful for those with, but not for those without. Each year it reminds me more and more of the western Christmas holiday season; how the Christmas trees, the decorations and lights are so beautiful and how it was an honored birthday celebration of Jesus, but how it is mainly a time of year for eating, drinking and materialism now. Suicide is greater here pre and post Tet as it is in the west pre and post Christmas which indicates something is out of kilter with how they are celebrated now.

As with anywhere there are still many here and in the west who truly express the spirit of Tet and Christmas without materialism and with true inner joy and love for their family and friends and are left with wonderful heartfelt feelings each year.

Chuc Mung Nam Moi (Happy New Year in Vietnamese)! I hope it will be a good one for you all; one full of contentment and love, compassion and care for others.
Yours, Linda

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