My first experience celebrating the lunar new year
Celebrations begin many days before the first day of the new year and usually start with a lot of cleaning, followed by many ceremonies, visiting relatives, eating, drinking and exchanging gifts and loads of lucky money!
Before we start celebrating, let’s learn about this lunar calendar thing.
Year of the Pig
2019 is the year of the pig (lợn in Vietnamese). The pig has the 12th place of all the zodiac animals. He probably overslept when the animals were ordered to visit the Jade Emperor’s party to decide the zodiac order. We will never know the details.
The 12-year cycle
You can easily find the other pig years by subtracting 12 from 2019 and so on. So the recent years of the pig are 2019, 2007, 1983, 1971, 1959, 1947.
The Five Elements
The Five elements in Vietnamese are as follows:
mộc — wood
hoả — fire
thổ — earth
kim — metal
thuỷ — water
The 60-year cycle
When the zodiac animal is combined with the 5 elements, the cycle repeats after 60 years. 2019 is the year of the pig and earth. The last year of the pig + earth combination was 1959 and the next would be 2079.
So the other pig years with the combination of their zodiac animal and elements would be as follows:
1935 - lợn, mộc (pig, wood)
1947 - lợn, hoả (pig, fire)
1959 - lợn, thổ (pig, earth)
1971 - lợn, kim (pig, metal)
1983 - lợn, thuỷ (pig, water)
1995 - lợn, mộc (pig, wood)
2007 - lợn, hoả (pig, fire)
2019 - lợn, thổ (pig, earth)
2031 - lợn, kim (pig, metal)
Year of 2019
In this blog, I will be using the lunar calendar dates. For reference, here’s the Gregorian-Lunar calendar conversion for 2019.
Let the celebrations begin..
Ngày 23 Tháng 12: Ông Táo
Mr Tao goes to heaven.
On this day, we have a small ceremony of sending Mr. Tao to heaven on carp fish.
Mr Tao is also known as the Kitchen God. It is believed that on the twenty third day of the twelfth lunar month, he goes to heaven to report the activities of each household to the Jade Emperor.
This annual report is used to decide the punishment or reward for each household.
Ngày 24 Tháng 12: Flower Market
Seeing the lucky plants of Tet
Hoa Đào (peach blossom) is iconic of North Vietnam and Apricot Blossom (Hoa Mai) is popular in South Vietnam as the lucky plants for Tet.
The Kumquat tree (or Cây Quất) is another common sight during Tet.
The trend for the Kumquat tree apparently comes from Feng Shui as are other elements of Chinese traditional borrowed by Vietnam.
Ngày 25 Tháng 12: End of Year Parties
Year end goodbyes as we all leave for our hometowns
Almost everyone leaves the cities and their ‘workplaces’ for their hometowns a few days before Tet.
There are year end parties in all offices, organisations, and families and as Tet comes closer, it becomes a more homely, private family affair with visits to close relatives.
So it was time to say goodbye to my friends in Hoi An as I was going to celebrate Tet with the Anh Family in Ha Tinh.
Ngày 26 Tháng 12: Leave for Hometown
Time to go to the family hometown
We took the overnight bus from Da Nang to Ha Tinh.
It was a comfortable sleeper bus and we were all excited to head home.
Ngày 27 Tháng 12: Meeting Family
Lots of food, meetings, and celebration
The most important element of Tet is meeting all your family (Tourists please note this!).
And that’s exactly what was on the agenda for Day 1. We left our home in Hà Tĩnh to meet the rest of the family living in Vinh.
This dinner meant a lot to me as I had got in a local family and everyone loved me!
A big, happy family together is all I wanted for Tet and I got it :)
Oh yes, we also went out shopping for a new Hoa Đào and got it home..
Ngày 28 Tháng 12: Cooking Bánh Chưng & Bánh Tét
And a lot more, of course!
It was the right day to start cooking the traditional, Tet special, Banh Chung.
It’s made with glutinous rice, mung beans, pork and onions. I volunteered to make my ‘an chay’ (vegan) version with rice, mung, and onions.
As you can see in the picture, the hardest part is to master the wrap with the leaves using the wooden square. Once you get that, it’s quite easy to work with the ingredients.
The order in which the ingredients go in is as follows:
- Mung Dal
- Pork (Meat version)
So the rice basically layers the cake on the top and bottom (and sides).
Here’s a video on how to get the box right…
(Skipping the pork here)
Add the last layer of rice on top and wrap..
After we were done, we were hungry and headed for lunch.
Post lunch, it was time to visit the memorial of the great Vietnamese poet Nguyễn Du which was just 200 meters from our house.
We took some beautiful pictures (like true Asians) and got back home as it was time for me to cook my own vegan version of Bánh Chưng and Bánh Tét.
And so I did..
And next up..
(The cylindrical one)
They’re cooked with wood and it’s a long process — around 6 hours cooking time.
At around 12:30 AM, they were ready and we took them out of the cooker.
Overnight, we kept them under some pressure to remove the additional water.
I’m pretty happy with my first Banh Chung and Banh Tet. Can’t wait to try them!
Ngày 29 Tháng 12: Family Ceremonies
Ending the year with ceremonies and more food
It was 29th morning, I woke up thinking about all the celebration we’ve done and realising Tet has barely begun!
On 29th, I started the day slow owing to all the cooking done the previous day.
I visited some of the friends’ families and tried some interesting snacks. Wine was served all times of the day during Tet.
Laster during the evening, we visited the ancestral tomb to pay respect.
One of the tomb’s was of my friend’s father’s sister who was a martyr as part of the American war.
We paid our respects including a ceremony where we presented the tomb with symbolic clothes and money — items that are believed to be of use to the ancestor.
We ended the 29th day with a family dinner..
Ngày 30 Tháng 12: Ceremony & Fireworks
Welcome the new year
The last day of the year was filled with family time and a lot of food and sleep at home.
Toward the end of the day, we cooked Bánh Trôi Nước to offer prayers to the sky and the earth.
Once done, we left to see the fireworks in Vinh city which were scheduled for 12:00 AM.
I’m not a fan of fireworks but the idea was to get the family together.. And that, I love!
And then it was our usual photo session..
Ngày 1 Tháng 1 aka Mùng 1
Family gatherings and lucky money
I was prepared.
I had the red (lucky color) envelopes ready with lucky money for the kids.
It was time to go broke..
The most important person of the family..
I also functioned as the family photographer (as I wanted to contribute in any way possible though I could never give back what I had received from the family).
And here’s a beautiful family picture of The Anh Family.
Ngày 2 Tháng 1 aka Mùng 2
Temple lunch, meeting relatives, our village sunset
We started the day slow with a good breakfast and entertaining visitors.
I was always ready to pour tea and serve the guests.
They had a reason to stay back more than the usual visit to find out what I was doing there.
There were no tourists or foreigners in Ha Tinh, which made me even more exotic.
During the afternoon, we set out to visit our family temple.
This was followed by an invite to ‘ăn trưa’ (have lunch) at the temple.
We then headed to visit some relatives.
Here are some pictures from our visits:
To end this beautiful evening,
We had the luxury of an amazing sunset at our village..
And that was the end of the second day of the year.
Well, of course there was a lot more eating to do for dinner!
Ngày 3 Tháng 1 aka Mùng 3
More family time and the beach resort!
Mùng 3 was a fusion of home time and luxury time.
Here are some highlights from Mùng 3.
After Mùng 3 (the third day of Tet celebration), we had a special day waiting for us.
Ngày 4Tháng 1: Lễ mừng thọ
Longevity wishing ceremony
Quick history note:
After the war, the majority of Vietnamese people at that time suffered great post-war consequences, the average life expectancy was less and many people’s birth certificates were destroyed in the war.
This background has the origins on this ceremony.
The 4th day of the new lunar year is reserved to celebrate long life and it also serves as a “common birthday” for all people aged 70 and above.
Our village was lucky — We did have one man who was aged 100 on this day :)
In our village, people aged 70,75,80,85,90,95 and 100 were invited.
I later learnt that usually only ages 70,80,90, and 100 are invited. The usual custom is to celebrate the ages with multiplies of 10, starting from 70, 80, 90 and very rarely 100.
So it’s like a birthday celebration for the ages below:
For 70 yo: mừng thọ
For 80 yo: thượng thọ
For 90 yo: thượng thượng thọ
For 100 yo: thượng thượng thọ
As part of the ceremony, people show their thankfulness to the Buddha or God in village temples.
Our official organiser used Uncle Ho’s picture..
And I had the honor of carrying him on my shoulders for the ceremony.
This was a big deal for me.
I felt a part of the celebration, and not just a visitor / viewer.
And that’s exactly what I wanted..
And they were so happy to have me :)
I was happy to give them a reason to be excited having me participate and speaking Vietnamese.
And the kids were having their fun shouting ‘Tây Tây Tây’!
But to their disappointment, I would reply in Vietnamese..
Không Tây, Tôi là châu á (I’m not western, I am Asian)
That only got us closer together..
I spent most of the time on this day with my Vietnamese mother.
It was her special day, after all :)
There was beer and wine and tea and snacks for them but they were happier feeding me!
The mother’s love the same everywhere you go :)
As usual, it was mutually decided that for this picture, we WON’T do a selfie version.
We love this.
That’s what we do!
And that was the end of a beautiful Tet experience like a local in Vietnam.
I was invited by my Vietnamese family for the next Tet!
See you again next year :)
Tạm biệt và hẹn gặp lại