Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Celebration of the Vietnamese New Year and the Legend of Kitchen God

Likewise other regions, countries, period, time; Vietnamese has it very own style to celebrate their New Year. It is according to Vietnamese lunisolar calendar that periodically appear in every year period.

The celebration of New Year perhaps it is the most significant and important celebration in Vietnamese culture and tradition throughout the country. This New Year is so called Tết Nguyên Đán’ or jus ‘Tết’ which was a mix culture of Vietnamese-Chinese tradition that usually fall in either January or February. The word of Tết Nguyên Đán means ‘Feast for the First Morning of the First Day’ of the beginning year to mark the first day of the lunar New Year. The feel and atmosphere of the Tết  celebration actually starts when the rite of the Kitchen God ‘Tao Quan’ or Ong Tao go to the heaven to see the Jade Emperor on the 23rd of the 12th  month of Vietnamese lunisolar year. This occasion is also to include some activities: in some part of the town and villages probably has some traditional lion dance, or dragon dance performance or at the night also appear in the sky of beautiful firework to energize the coming year. Family gathering, visiting friends and relatives is also part of the tradition with perhaps followed by family lunch or dinner with special New Year food and drinks. Peoples are visiting pagodas as well as worship to the ancestors in family tombs to clean the grave as a sign to respect the ancestors, family altar and shrines which usually happening from the 25th – 30th of the 12th month on the lunar calendar. Giving a red blessed envelope with some money in it to the children and elderly is also part of the tradition. In few areas, this New Year is also good time to start businesses, to open shops, and other trades and start selling things in the market.

About the image above: two kind artificial trees
are being transported in Ho Chi Minh City
About the image above
Pink peach blossom (hoan dao)
Usually appear for decoration in the North Vietnam
About the image above
Yellow apricot blossom (hoan mai)
Usually appear for the decoration in the South Vietnam

About the image above: yellow flowers are transported through the canal
About the image above: yellow flowers start blooming

Before the Tết
Before the day of the Tết, people in the country usually clean their houses, decorate with the house with either yellow apricot flower (hoa mai), peach blossom flowers (hoa dao), orange tree with fruits, kumquat tree with fruits, some orchid and also chrysanthemum flower, to hang some red envelopes and (fakes) gold coins on decorated tree in house, colorful light, with New Year greeting: Chúc Mng Năm Mi.

There are few listed words that usually say during the New Year:

1.     Xuân này hơn hn my xuân qua – This spring is better than last spring
2.    Phúc lc đưa nhau đến tng nhà – Happiness and fortune come to each house
3.    Vài li cung chúc tân niên mi – Here are some wishes for the Mew Year
4.    Vn s an khang vn s lành – Wising everything well-being
5.    Năm mi chúc nhau sc khe nhiu - Wish you good health for the New Year
6.    Bc tin rng rnh thoái mái tiêu – Spending money happily and freely
7.    Gia đình hnh phúc bn bè quý – Happy family and friends
8.    Thanh thn vui chơi mi bui chiu – Every evening is enjoyable and relieved
9.    Đu xuân năm mi chúc bình an – Wising peace for the New Year
10. Chúc luôn tươi tr chúc an khang – Wish you forever young and good health
11.  Chúc sang năm mi nhiu tài lc – Wish you good fortune for the New Year
12.  Công thành danh toi chúc vinh quang – Wish you laurel and success

Beside of cleaning and decorate the house, Vietnamese prepare traditional holiday Tết food like ‘dried bamboo shoot soup, bánh Tết (round pillow-like cake which mostly for South Vietnam region), bánh chưng (square cake available in Northern region of Vietnam), variety of rolls (gio – like pate and round shape of prepared food) and sticky rice like xoi gac and pounded sticky rice.

About the image above: Tet decoration on the tree

About the image above: hanging decorations

About the image above: the hanging decoration

About the image above: simple decorations

About the image above: golden fish always appear during he new year

About the image above: wishes on the tree

About the image above: Tet wishes 

About the image above: Tet wish on the yellow tree

About the image above: Tet wish

About the image above: lixi envelope for the year of monkey

The Tết is a five days national holiday and in the city like Ho Chi Minh City, we will not  see crowded motorbikes as usual and most of the shops are closed during this festive.     

Preparation for the Tết celebration usually started weeks before the celebration. Everybody want to be happy and in good mood to welcome the New Year. Parents buy new clothes for their children; people try to pay the debts to be debt-free on this coming Tết day. Everybody start buying ingredients, food, and filling up stock the necessary supplies to be enough because most of the shops are not in operation.

Peoples prepare the offerings, cleaning the house shrines, altars and place some fruits like dragon fruit, coconut, papaya, mango and custard apple. Arrange each fruit on individual tray or plate and offer in front of the altar or shrine.

About the image above: pilgrimages at the pagoda

About the image above: pilgrimages at pagoda
About the image above: people visit grave of the ancestors

About the image above: Vietnamese cemetery

-       The 23rd of 12th month the ritual that the Kitchen God Journey to heaven to meet the Jade Emperor
-       The 25th peoples go to the cemetery and clean the grave to respect the ancestors
-       The 29th or 30th people buy flowers, decorate the houses, cooking the meals for the celebration (cúng cơm ông bà), to invite the ancestors and then followed by the family to have lunch together at the night time or New Year eve’s, pray to welcome the New Year (Cúng giao tha). It is a compulsory for Buddhists.

During the New Year
-       First day - The father (if married or head of the family) and spouse have to go to visit your grandparents and your parents and wish them happy New Year.
-       Second day – to visit your in law grandparents and in law parents also to wish them Happy New Year.
-       Third day – to visit teachers, relatives and probably friends and wish them Happy New Year.

This tradition I believe that to keep in touch in the relation to whom your life has been attached with and to whom to lead you to be like what you are today.

In old time or in some villages people still have this famous sentence: sentence “Mùng mt tết cha, mùng hai tết m, mùng ba tết thy" means first day visit your grandparents, and your parent, second day to visit in law grandparents and in law parents and the third day of the Tết you will need to visit your teachers, relatives or friends.

During the New Year day, all of the family members wake up earlier than usual, take refresh and wear new cloth, seem to be happy to start the first new day of the year. The children always expect and wait for the red envelope from their parents or relatives that elder than them. Before they receive the red envelope, the children will wish the elder a traditional Tết greeting as Chúc Mng Năm Mi or other greeting that probably suitable for each of them. The most important in the tradition is to receive the first visitors of the house on the Tết day. You will never enter the house only when you are invited.

About the image above: shopping mall decorate its entrance to celebrate Tet
About the image above: beautiful decoration for Tet in Ho Chi Minh City
About the image above: roads are decorated in colourful lights
About the image above: beautiful lights in front of Chao Ben Thanh
About the image above: Tet decorations are sold everywhere in the city
About the image above: Tet decorations
About the image above: drummers to cheers the lion dance
About the image above: preparing for dragon performance

Few unique traditions during the Tết:
-       Everybody will behave positively on this first day of the year because in Vietnamese believe that if you are good or can control yourself during the Tết period; you will follow by luck, happiness and full of blessing throughout of year.
-       The owner of the house should leave the house means go out from the house or stay outside of the house and as soon as the clock ticking at midnight, he/they has to rush to enter to the house, this is to prevent from somebody else enter the house first.
-       No sweeping during the Tết because sweep the floor means take the lucky blessing away.
-       Guests have to wear colorful cloths during the visit, means colorful life and happy.
-       Avoid top wear black or white color during this festive season.
-       If you have somebody die or you lost your family member (passed away), it is taboo to visit someone’s house.

Some attractions during the Tết are Lion Dance, Dragon Dance; usually some houses and office hire them to dance in their compound for good lucks, blessing and for bad lucks cleansing. Peoples try to make lots of noises with some marching drums, bells, instruments, gongs, firecrackers to banish the evil spirits, bad lucks. Parade along the street with the dance and after that the family will get together to enjoy New Year dishes with joy and happiness.

About the image above: Vietnamese idols

The different between the North and the South when celebrate the New Year
  • Decoration: the northern region will display the pink peach blossom (hoan dao) and the south region will display yellow apricot blossom (hoan mai).
  • Food: the Northern region will include bánh chưng (square cake) to honor the Mother Earth symbol of the wealthy and fertility while in the South region has bánh tét (round cake) to represent the vigor power and perpetuity. The braised pork in the north will served with mushroom while in the south; the pork braised in coconut water/milk.
  • Offering: in the North people offer five kinds of fruits: pomelo, banana, mandarin, chili and in the south will offer custard apple, coconut, papaya, and mango; both combine with the Buddha Hand’s fruits. From the other sources that the offering of the fine fruits will show different purpose and symbol.


The five kinds of fruit should be offered during the Tết are:

  • Green color – will come from the green fruits; green banana, green custard apple, green apple, green durian which represents spring. The green banana probably the best choice because the shape look like the shape of our hands to be ready to tap the prosperity. And the green banana also soon will develop to be a sweet fruit to give food and represent protection, love, and care.
  • Red color – will be represented by the persimmon, orange mandarin, or chilies. It is symbolize for the fire, heat, summer.
  • White color – will be represented by the ripe peach, it is delicate, sweet. It is symbolize of the autumn.
  • Black color – will be represented by black plum. It is symbolize for winter.
  • Yellow color – will be represented by the Buddha Hand’s fruit because this beautiful fruit has 5-20 segments. It is symbolize for prosper, luck and happiness.


Those five kinds of fruits are symbolizing for the colorfulness of the Tết and reflect harmony, beauty and aspiration.

about the image above: Bánh chưng

About the image above: Bánh tét 

About the image above: xoi gac

The food for the New Year or ăn Tết

Bánh chưng is square shape of steamed sticky rice stuffed with meat (mostly pork meat0 and crushed beans, wrapped in green phrynium placentarium leaves (or in Vietnamese language called dong leaves) and tighten up with some strings. Press and form into square about 1-2 kilograms in weight. Steamed about 24 house or more.

Bánh tét is round shape of steamed sticky rice stuffed with meat (mostly pork meat0 and crushed beans, wrapped in green phrynium placentarium leaves (or in Vietnamese language called dong leaves) and tighten up with some strings. Press and form into square about 1-2 kilograms in weight. Steamed about 24 house or more.

Bánh dy is steamed sticky rice flour (sometime wrapped in banana leaf) and usually eat with pate or sausage and other condiments
Some snacks and condiments are also served during the Tết:

Kho Qua is typical Vietnamese New Year Soup make from minced pork, mushrooms and vegetables stuffed into bitter gourd and cook slowly in a tasty broth; the word ‘Kho’ means unhappy, bad feeling, miserable bitter and all negative things and ‘Qua’ means over, finish, erase, trough away, far away. It is beautiful dish and tasty too.

Mut Tết is variety of preserved fruits, candies or jams. All this fruit probably only eaten during this festive like candied ginger, candied carrot, candied coconut, candied pineapple, preserved star fruits, candied sweet potatoes,  pumpkin seeds, lotus seeds; presented in beautiful box on the table.

Dưa hành is pickled small onions, probably eaten with the cakes or sausage.

Ht dưa is roasted watermelon seeds, some in red color and also in brown-black color.

C kiu is preserved white part of the spring onions, small onions!

Probably few families are also have their own specialties, roasted suckling pig, slow-braised pork belly with boiled egg and soya, boiled chicken, special pates and sausages, to enjoy during this feast.


The Legend of the Kitchen God

It is says that every Vietnamese kitchen guarded by the kitchen God so called Ông Táo. This God present and monitor very closely on what you are cooking, how is the food tastes, how you cook the food for your family. Related to the New Year celebration, it says that the God of the Kitchen go to the heaven to report to the Jade Emperor Hoc Hoang on every 23rd day of the 12th month by Vietnamese lunar calendar.

Upon his departure to heaven is marked as sacrifices and celebations; the family usually do some offering for him. The family will offer some fruits, sweet soup, cakes, and sticky rice and also prepare a ladder for him to climb up to the heaven by putting sugar cane.

Ông Táo is a character that prominent that plays role in Vietnamese daily life and folk story. His duty and job as a watcher or guidance in the kitchen consider guidance to every family and this concept probably found only here in the Taoist kitchen concept. The story came from old folk that say:

The story started long time ago in a beautiful Valley of Whisperer, in very dense forest also lived a man named Trong Cao together with his wife Thi Nhi that only knows to cut the tree from the forest because they and no knowledge and very poor. The man always drinks local made palm wine and get drunk easily, and beating his wife every time. His wife really sad that the man she loved and now becoming bad temper, so she decided to leave without notice and she never come back home. She walked searched for food and drink in the forest for weeks, months until one day she felt so hungry but still walked. She saw a house which belongs to a hunter and she entered the house. The house owner see this, he felt so pity to her and gave her some food and drink and she also permitted to rest in the house. She start has energy and she promised to the house owner to be a servant and keep the house clean and tidy. One day the hunter or the owner of the house named Pham Lang attracted to her and they got marriage and live together happily.

During her routine duty to keep the house clean and doing ceremony and she pray for the ancestors by burning paper money in her front yard, suddenly came one beggar approached her asked for some food and drink. Upon giving the food to the beggar, she spotted a mark on the beggar’s face that belongs to her former husband and aske the beggar if it was him and the beggar say yes it is him. She felt sorry for his fate. In the beginning the new husband did not know about this but after she told her new husband and her new husband accused her. The woman was not cheating her new husband and to prove it she then jumped to the fire and die. To know about this happened the former husband also jumped to the fire and burnt him alive.

About the image above: musician flair for Tet
About the image above: traditional instrument plays for Tet
About the image above: Tet decoration in a shopping mall

The hunter or new husband felt sorry and regretted and also jumped to the fire and Jade Emperor knew about this and moved the new husband from the fire and gives him a tittle as Ông Táo that will watch any activities in the kitchen and keep everybody safe and happy.

The Kitchen God will return to earth exactly after a week in the heaven, on the 30th day of the 12th month He will return to Vietnam and marked as celebration of the New Year.

About the image above: wishes for new year 

About the image above: popular wishes in Vietnam

About the image above: New year wish displays
at a five stars hotel in district 5

About the image above: happy New Year in the central park
Ho Chi Minh City

The development later, the three genies from the 3 decedents became Gods and Goddess!
-       The Hunter which is Pham Lang is Tho Cong – the God of the Kitchen. His duties are to look after the cooking job, taste and menu of the kitchen.
-       The Woodcutter which is Trong Cao is Tho Dia – the God of Soil. His duties are to take care of the family affairs, look after entire family activities.
-       The Wife which is Thi Nhi is Tho Ki – the Goddess of the market and shopping. Her duties are to take care of all matter related to shops and traditional markets.

Sometime also the genies appear on a golden carp (fish) as also marked as releasing fish to the river for good lucks.

I wish you a prosperous Happy New Year. Chúc Mng Năm Mi.

Vn s như ý’- Everything as you wish!


No comments:

Post a Comment