By 19:00, all children and adults in the family must finish showering, but this is not a normal way of showering like every other day of the year. In the lead up to Tet, families have purified their homes, paid off any outstanding debts and bid farewell to the Kitchen God. Just before the new year starts, it’s time to purify themselves. Many Vietnamese people believe bathing in water treated with medicinal herbs (in Vietnamese, it is called “nước lá mùi”) washes away all of the previous years’ misfortune and sets them up for a clean and prosperous Vietnam New Year. The scent of herbal is so soft and iconic that I always sense that Tet is really here by smelling it.
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After having dinner, mom and dad will wash the dishes while we – the children – turn on the TV waiting for “Tao Quan” (“Kitchen God”) show. As far as I know, every single person in Vietnam if they are home, they definitely watch this comedy show making it the most expected one during this time. Some famous comedians play as kitchen gods reporting the highlight events of the year to the Jade Emperor in a sarcastic way to bring meaningful laughs to people. Many topics will be discussed like Economy, Transportation, Health Care, Education, Art, etc. with both specific strengths and weaknesses.
By the time the show ends which is around 22:00, my mom will start preparing the five-fruit tray for the outdoor worship session which is held by exactly 00:00. Mam ngu qua (the five fruit tray) is an indispensable decoration for ancestor altar in Tet. Fire, Earth, Water, Metal, and Wood, are five natural elements represented by five colors of five fruits. Each element is thought to cover a wish for the New Year like peace, healthiness and wealthy.
The children always find it hard to stay awake, we are struggling to keep our eyes open to welcome the very first moment of the new year. My dad once made me drink his pure coffee so that I stopped winning about how sleepy I was, that came out I was up all night long and my dad just keeps laughing every time he is thinking of it.
The sound of firework signals the time of midnight 00:00. My mom starts the session of worshiping our ancestor while my dad brings us to the rooftop to witness firework from afar. Actually, a lot of people going out for the new year’s eve and enjoying the firework at a very close distance, but my family chooses to always stay home. I myself love this tradition since we can gather the whole family together, even now when I grow up, get my own job and live away from parents, I understand how precious those moments are.
Since firecrackers were banned in the late 90s, firework shows have become an even larger part of Vietnamese New Year. Traditionally new year was marked by locals making loud noises to scare off evil spirits from ruining the fresh year.
In some places, locals perform dragon dances and carry whistles, rattles, gongs, and bells to make sure those evil spirits think twice about destroying the new year. The firework lasts about 15 minutes and by the time it ends, my mom also finishes her task of worshiping and here comes “Xông đất” (the first visit to a home in the year). “Xông đất” might originate from traditional rites of Vietnamese people to worship the 12 Zodiac animals.
12 Zodiac animal theory refers to the collection of 12 animals that represent year and age of people, including Rat, Buffalo, Tiger, Cat, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Hen, Dog, Pig. They are made up of 6 pairs that negatively impact each other. Also, there are pairs that positively influence each other which means that bringing fortune, success and good to each other. Examples of the complementary astrology:
Household head: Mouse – First visitors: Monkey – Dragon – Buffalo
Household head: Buffalo – First visitors: Snake – Hen – Mouse
Household head: Tiger – First visitors: Horse- Dog- Pig
Sometimes, choosing the first visitor to come to the family depends on other factors as well. Some people might not have the most matching astrology with the household head but they are known to be amiable and “luck-generator” which are preferred by the host.
The rhythm of “No more Champagne, and the fireworks are through….” resounds in the middle of the first party in the year – full of traditional food and my dad opens his favorite Champagne bottle with cheers. That wraps up the New Year’s Eve in happiness.
The night seems long, but together, we know that is the best Tet in our heart.
Happy New Year!
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