Lunar New Year: Thousand-Year Cultural Beauty of Vietnamese People

6:03:35 AM | 27/1/2020

For Vietnamese people, the Tet holiday is the most important time of the year. Whether urban or rural, in lowland or mountainous regions, mainland or remote islands, inside or outside the country, every time New Year comes, everyone remembers their homeland and their roots. Tet holiday has contributed to highlighting the cultural identity and the ideal of life imprinted on the minds of Vietnamese people.

Traditional customs

Lunar New Year is the long-standing traditional festival of Vietnamese people. Tet Holiday is not only the sacred moment marking the transition between an old year and a new year, it also contains both a conception of life as well as deep and unique customs and beliefs imbued with national culture.

According to the custom, the Lunar New Year starts on the 23rd of the 12th lunar month (23 Tet), lasts until the 7th day of the first lunar month, in which the first three days of the first month belonging to the new year are considered as the Lunar New Year – Tet holiday. There are differences among ethnic and religious groups, economic level and social classes; however, the customs of tending graves - before New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Eve, New Year - and giving lucky money are basically the same. These customs teach people to remember their origins, to show filial piety to their parents, to be in harmony with their relatives, to be responsible to the community, and to be affectionate with their neighbors.

The symbols of Tet for many people are apricot blossom, peach blossom and chung cake. The images of crimson peach branches or yellow apricot branches next to the five fruit tray represent a wish of a happy, lucky and prosperous new year. Sitting next to the cooking pot of chung cakes, parents and grandparents tell their children about family traditions and ancestral merits, thereby educating their children on the principles of drinking water to remember the source, about filial piety and how to preserve and cherish them. All of them create a very special Vietnamese Lunar New Year, unlike any other country.

The most important meaning in Vietnamese Lunar New Year is the reunion. Traditionally, in every Vietnamese family on Tet holiday, no matter where anyone goes, what they do, how far away they are, and they all try to return home. For Vietnamese, remembering your roots is not only about the feelings for the living, but also for the lost generations. In the family, the most decorated and carefully arranged place on Tet holiday is the altar of the family, because the spirit will return to reign, to reunite and celebrate Tet. That tradition is fostered and embellished through generations to form traditional cultural values.

In addition to the common "procedures" that are familiar to every generation in any places, there are localities that have their own unique customs and identities. The Muong people in Ba Vi, Hanoi, always have a singing and dancing performance about the thousand-year-old banyan tree in the village; while the San Diu ethnic group in Luc Nam, Bac Giang, distills alcohol to drink and invites guests on Spring days or the Mong people have the custom of sticking the silver paper carved into money forms on the walls and on production tools. These unique features have created extremely diverse and rich cultural identities in Vietnam's Tet picture.

Although the country has been renovated, rituals and customs also become "flexible" to suit the development trend of the times, the customs and ceremonies in Tet still last forever. These are the pure cultural beauty of history and the pride of the Vietnamese people.

The Year of the Rat and the image of rats in folklore

According to the calendar, 2020 is the Year of Rat, also when the image of rats is most mentioned. In folklore, rats are associated with agility and intelligence. This animal is also the inspiration of many interesting folk art works that still exist today. Among these, perhaps the most well known is that of the famed traditional painting of Dong Ho – the Mice wedding. The picture is humorous and witty with profound meanings about the relationship between peasantry and ruling class in the old society, representing strong bullying the weak. People borrowed the image of mice to create satire and humor about an evil that society needed to condemn and eliminate.

In Vietnamese culture, rats exist along with wet rice agriculture. In vast rice fields, rats always exist and continuously grow exponentially. Therefore, the rat represents a wish for a large, prosperous and happy family with many children. Rat is also an animal that brings good luck in the family's love life, expressing happiness and warmth.

In feng shui, rats carry many symbolic meanings. According to folklore, wherever a mouse comes, that place will have abundant food. Besides, the salient characteristics of rats are very quick, clever, intelligent, and they know how to improvise and calculate carefully before acting. Therefore, the rat means that everyone in the family has ingenuity, agility and ability to cope with any situation in life and work.

Tet means a lot to Vietnamese people. It connects the past and the present, opening the way for the future. Tet begins with news of love and hope. The customs of the Lunar New Year symbolize for the fine cultural traditions of the Vietnamese. Through many fluctuations of history, Vietnamese people still hold these fine customs. That is the spiritual value, also the deep emotional value imbued with Vietnamese cultural identity.