Happy Lunar New Year – Tet

Lion dancers at a New Year's Parade in San Francisco in a previous year

Lion dancers at a New Year’s Parade in San Francisco in a previous year

On the evening of February 18, 2015, many in California (and around the world) are counting down to the beginning of the new lunar year. Since I have so many Vietnamese students in my classes, I have become very familiar with Tet – the Vietnamese new year celebrations. This year, Tet is on February 19, and I like the idea of a new year’s celebration in mid-February rather than December 31. It actually feels right to celebrate the beginning of a new year now rather than on the last day of December.

First, December is already a busy month. There are plenty of Austrian traditional holidays that need to be celebrated, such as December 5 (Krampus Day) and December 6 (St. Nickolaus Day) – see previous blog posts (Krampus Day and St. Nickolaus). Then, there are the Christmas holidays. It seems odd to have another large celebration/holiday in the same month, especially since per Austrian tradition, January 6 is also a holiday. New Year’s Day on January 1 seems to become nearly lost amongst all the other holidays. By the time mid-February comes around, I could use another large holiday/celebration, so the lunar new year is actually in perfect time.

Blossoms and Oranges

Blossoms and Oranges

Second, a new year symbolizes new beginnings and in Northern California, nature clearly displays new beginnings in mid-February. I understand that this most likely is not the case in the Midwest and on the East Coast, but here most fruit trees are blooming, the daffodils are out in all their glory, and I have already sown my peas and planted lettuce outside – no greenhouses needed. The new year also goes well with the major spring cleaning that is encouraged by the balmy 70 degrees. It stays light longer and in general everyone seems to be ready to spend more time outside – new beginnings. However, the end of December does not feel like renewal in any way – it still gets dark very early, no one wants to plant anything outside, and plenty of rain and mud do not encourage any major spring cleaning.

Almond trees in Capay Valley, CA

Almond trees in Capay Valley, CA in February

Third, the celebrations (especially for Tet) include many traditions that are usually divided amongst several American holidays, so this holiday seems to go all out and have it all: firecrackers, decorated graves, decorated trees, ornaments around the house, ghosts in the streets, parades, large meals/family feasts, new clothes. Whatever you like most about your favorite American holiday seems to exist on this day as well.

Decorations for Tet (found on: http://commons.wikimedia.org)

So the longer I live here and am around the lunar new year celebrations, the more this holiday makes sense. Tet falls on the same day as the Chinese new year. I like that it lasts for three days and each day is dedicated to a special group: the first day is reserved for close family, the second day for close friends, and the third day is for teachers. I am always amazed that teachers are held in such high regards that they get their own day  as part of this holiday. According to Vietnamese students I have met, people visit their former teachers to thank them on this day. Tet also means plenty of cleaning and completing tasks before the new year. There is luck money in red envelopes for children and there is betting (no traditional American holiday I know of includes gambling games). And of course there are special dishes for the new year. Many of the students mention bánh chưng – square cake (rice, mung bean, and pork wrapped in leaves).

Square Cakes – Traditional Dish for Tet (found on: http://www.vietnamonline.com)

So as the year of the sheep begins (or goat or ram – this confusion only exists in translations; learn more about it here if you are interested: http://nyti.ms/1G1Huei ), may the new year bring you all you are hoping for.

Vạn sự như ý – May all wishes come true!