What Vietnamese Do On Tet Holiday

Tết Nguyên Đán or Tết Holiday has a very special position in the hearts of every Vietnamese no matter where they are. As the most important holiday in Vietnamese culture, it is held on the first days of the year in Lunar calendar, usually falling into February in solar calendar. Although Tết is traditionally a 3-day celebration, it actually involves preparations in the week(s) prior. Starting from Tết Táo Quân/Tết Ông Công – Ông Táo or Kitchen God Worship Day (December 23rd of the Lunar Calendar,) the atmosphere becomes festive and jolly when everyone rushes to prepare for the ritual and Tết.

>>>Learn More about the Origin and Meaning of Tet Holiday

1/Before Tết

1-1/Clean houses

It is of an important matter for Vietnamese people to clean their houses every Tết holiday. The act of cleaning and tidying the house at the beginning of the New Year is a mark point for a fresh start. We clean our houses to exorcise the evil spirits out of our doors and also to welcome good blessings to the whole family.

Photo: Bao An
1-2/Buy new clothes

Buying new clothes as gifts for the youngsters of the household is one of many beautiful acts to celebrate the start of New Year. As Vietnamese people in the past  used to endure starvation and poverty, the children were not given enough clothes to wear throughout the year. Almost the only chance for them to have new clothes is the occasion of Tết, when their parents spend most of  the savings for the family to have the best New Year celebration, which includes the buying of clothes for their lovely children.

Photo: Pipi City
1-3/Prepare food

One of the most common act of celebrating is of course eating. And in order to eat, we need food. The preparation usually starts very early before the arrival of Tết, so that during Tết, we do not need to cook much. Another reason for this early preparation is that during the first three days of Tết, the market is usually closed.

Photo: Dan Tri

Depending on each region and also each household, there are some traditional Tết food that should be prepared in advance. Here are some references for you.

>>>Check out Three Most Popular Vietnamese New Year Food in the North

>>>Check out Three Most Popular Vietnamese New Year Food in the Central

2/During Tết: The First Three Days Of New Year

Many customs and traditions are practiced by Vietnamese people to celebrate a new year on its first three days. We usually go back to our homeland, visit our ancestors’ grave and pray at the pagodas to receive good fortune and blessings. Besides, we visit our relatives, teachers, friends to dine and have fun with them, while children receive lucky money. This is the perfect opportunity for reunions and gatherings, because only at this time, most people have free time to spend with their beloved ones talking and sharing their lives to make up for the time of separation.

Photo: ydvn.net

Because of increasing demands, many means of public transportation like planes, trains, long-route buses, etc. offer tickets with doubled or even tripled price compared to that of ordinary days. Therefore, those who want to celebrate Tết at their homelands must book tickets several months in advance.

Photo: Tuoi Tre

3/Typical New Year Food

3-1/The North

Bánh chưng (Chưng cake)

Bánh chưng is the most common food eaten during Tết. Originated from the North of Vietnam, this dish has many times proved to be more than just a piece of cuisine. Bánh chưng is a national representative, a part of tradition that all of us inherited from our ancestors from the distant past.

Photo: adayroi.com
3-2/The South

Bánh tét (Tét cake)

As paralleled to bánh chưng in the north, bánh tét is in the south. This the representative of the south, sweeter and more like a dessert. This dish can convert the truism in the souls of the makers of it, as well as of all the Vietnamese in the south of Vietnam.

Photo: saigontourist.net
3-3/The central

Nem chua (Fermented pork roll)

Nem chua is not only famous in the center of Vietnam, but throughout the nation. People from everyone area of the country enjoy nem chua, for its sour but sweet taste that none other dishes has to offer.

Photo: Youtube

For further information about the three special dishes of Vietnam, please refer to these articles:

>>>Check out Three Most Popular Vietnamese New Year Food in the North

>>>Check out Three Most Popular Vietnamese New Year Food in the Central

4/Side Dishes of New Year Food

During any Tết activity, food is served to increase the enjoyment of each event. Here are some popular types of food specialised for this particular purpose:

4-1/Mứt (Candied fruit)

Candied fruit, also known as crystallized fruit or glacé fruit, has existed since the 14th century. Whole fruit, smaller pieces of fruit, or pieces of peel, are placed in heated sugar syrup, which absorbs the moisture from within the fruit and eventually preserves it. Depending on size and type of fruit, this process of preservation can take from several days to several months. This process allows the fruit to retain its quality for a year.

Photo: jamja.vn

In Vietnam, mứt is most loved by children, especially during Tết. It’s healthy, natural and tastes amazing. Lots of adults still enjoy it too. The most popular fruit being candied is coconut, ginger, etc.

4-2/Khô (dried food)
  • Khô mực (Dried shredded squid): a dried, shredded, seasoned, seafood product, made from squid or cuttlefish, commonly found in coastal Asian countries, Russia, and Hawaii. The snack is also referred to as dried shredded cuttlefish.
  • Khô bò (Beef jerky): a type of jerky, a lean meat that has been trimmed of fat, cut into strips, and then dried to prevent spoilage. The resulting jerky from the above methods would be a salty and/or savory snack. However, sometimes a sweet or semi-sweet recipe is used, with sugar being a major ingredient in that variation. Jerky is ready-to-eat and needs no additional preparation. It can be stored for months without refrigeration.
Spicy khô bò. Photo: bepgiadinh.com
4-3/Hạt khô (Dried seeds)

The seeds are usually cleaned, heated and then roasted for eating purpose. There are many types of seed which can be eaten, for example dried roasted watermelon seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds,… We Vietnamese love to crack the seeds and eat them, just for fun. 

5/New Year Games

As Tết is also a holiday and a festival, many traditional games are carried out during this occasion. The games are not only for children, but also for the adults to reminisce back into their childhood. 

5-1/Traditional games

Catching ducks

Tết is usually initiated in February, which is the season of winter in spring, but still the weather is still chilly in the North of Vietnam. Therefore, in the years with warm weather, some rural areas hold the game of catching ducks in the pond. People choose a deep pond, or a pond with high shore, or use a grid or bamboo stick to strap around the pond. The number of players varies on the width of the pond, usually from two to four players maximum. Two large ducks will be dropped down into the pond with for the players to try to catch. The players of this game are not blindfolded but are required to have good agility and swimming techniques.

Photo: http://www.qtv.vn

Catching goats

This game usually takes place on a large grass field. The players is divided into pairs. Each pair will take turn to join the field. One person of each pair will be blindfolded, and have to catch the other person without getting out of the drawn circle. The person who acts as the goat must sometimes makes noise so that the blindfolded person can know where they are. This game is only for fun, and usually it’s the children who enjoy playing it the most.

Photo: Youtube

Wrestling

Wrestling is a beautiful performance of Vietnamese people’s martial arts spirit. The game is an opportunity for the strong wrestlers of the villages to compete with each other to find the winner of the championship. This is the chance for people to show off their strength and also to strengthen the bonds between villagers and villages.

Photo: http://www.baodaklak.vn
5-2/Modern games

Đánh bài (Card games)

Tết is the season of gambling. For new year’s luck, people are more willing to bet their money on something that they usually don’t. Sometimes we just play cards for fun, with only a small amount of money between the family and relatives, for the sake of the long lasting tradition of the nation.

Photo: VnMedia
    • Tiến lên (literally: “go forward”): also known as Vietnamese cards, Thirteen, Killer 13, “‘Bomb”‘, is a Vietnamese shedding-type card game devised in Southern China and Vietnam. It is similar to Zheng Shangyou, which uses a specially printed deck of cards, Big Two, and other “climbing” card games popular in many parts of Asia. Tiến lên, considered the national card game of Vietnam, is a game intended and best for four players.
    • Bài cào: This is one of the simplest, quickest, and most dependent on the element of chance. This game played with two or more people, the number of people is unlimited but it must be made sure each person has three cards.
    • Bài tấn (Durak): a card game that is popular in post-Soviet states. The object of the game is to get rid of all one’s cards. At the end of the game, the last player with cards in their hand is the durak. Co-op is not allowed in durak. This game is popular in Vietnam.
    • Phỏm or Tá lả: A Vietnamese card games, with 2-4 players.
    • Xì dách (Chinese Blackjack): Traditionally, most non-hardcore gamblers will play some form of gambling during the Chinese New Year as it is believed the new year brings in fresh new luck, and Chinese Blackjack is one of the most popular games to be played during the new year.
    • Xì tố (Poker)

Bầu Cua Tôm Cá (Gourd – Crab – Shrimp – Fish)

The game Bầu Cua Tôm Cá is a Vietnamese gambling game using three dice.The six sides of the dice, instead of showing one to six pips, have pictures of a fish, a prawn, a crab, a rooster, a calabash gourd, and a stag. Players place wagers on a board that has the six pictures, betting on which pictures will appear. If one die corresponds with a bet, the bettor receives the same amount as their bet. If two dice correspond with a bet, the bettor receives two times their money. If three dice correspond with a bet, the bettor receives three times their money. For instance, if one were to place $3 on fish, and the dealer rolls 2 fish and 1 stag, then the bettor would receive $6.
Bầu Cua Tôm Cá is essentially the Vietnamese variation of Hoo Hey How (Fish-Prawn-Crab) played in China, the dice game Crown and Anchor played by British sailors, or chuck-a-luck played in America.

We usually play this game during Tết, for fun.

Photo: https://www.vfaseattle.org

These are a few of many customs and traditions practiced during Vietnamese Tết Holiday, as we are celebrating the New Year and also the cultural beauty of our country. If you want to know more about this special event, you can look through our other articles discussing Tết. Happy New Year.

>>>Learn More about the Origin and Meaning of Tet Holiday

If you have any questions about this article or are in need for assistance about travelling in Vietnam or just anything at all, please do not hesitate to contact us, and we are sure to be thrilled to help.

Ngọc Lê

Buddha’s Birthday Celebration

 

Buddhism is one of the most influential religions in Asian countries such as China, South Korea, Japanese, Taiwan and also Vietnam. It has a great influence on the cultural and spiritual life of the Vietnamese. Tourists in Vietnam will be extremely amazed by the number of temples, pagodas, shrines, etc. throughout the country, even in big metropolitan areas, where tourists can also easily spot decades- or centuries- ancient temples alongside 21st century’s modern buildings.

Thiên Mụ pagoda. (Photo: chuanoitieng.com)

Although the era of technology and global integration is developing at a rapid pace, Vietnamese Buddhists ( or ‘phật tử’ in Vietnamese) still retain their traditional religious values. One of three most important and sacred Buddhism’s ceremonies is the Buddha’s Birthday Celebration held on April 15th (also called Mid-April day) in the lunar calendar. On this day, Buddhists have a vegetarian diet, honour ‘tam bảo’ (three precious treasures) and uphold ‘ngũ giới’ (five rules.)

Tam bảo

Tam bảo’ is a Sino-Vietnamese word. ‘Tam’ means three, ‘bảo’ means precious treasure. Therefore, ‘Tam bảo’ is three precious treasures of Buddhism, including Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

Buddha is the first treasure. The true figure in human history – Prince Shakyamuni, the son of King Śuddhodana in nowadays Nepal, was the first person to enlighten and teach Dharma. In other words, Buddha found the truth and method of meditating towards liberation to abolish human sufferings in life.

Buddha (Photo: thefamouspeople.com)

Another treasure is Dharma. Dharma is the method of meditating and the truth of enlightenment taught by the Buddha. To attain enlightenment and liberation as the Buddha, Dharma is the only way the Buddhists can follow.

Sangha is the last treasure. This term refers to those who spend their lives dedicated to Buddhism, following Buddha’s footsteps, and practising Dharma. The monks while practising it are always trying to exemplify and teach the righteous deeds of the Buddha to other new religious converters, with the positive desire for a better and less suffering life.

Sangha. (Photo: What – buddha – said.net)

Ngũ giới

‘Ngũ giới’ is five rules for the Buddhists to comply to achieve highest liberation. If all of them are conducted, human’s society will be full of happiness.  Here are the five rules:
1. Stay away from killing: Do no harm people or animals, no matter how weak or strong they are.  When a Buddhist sees somebody doing a harmful act against his/her own kind or other animal species, s/he should stop them.
2. Stay away from theft: Do not commit greedy acts. Do not steal or damage properties, money, food, etc. that belong to someone else or the society.
3. Stay away from sexual misconducts: Do not seduce or force others to satisfy your sexual desires against their wills. Do not manipulate others to commit adultery, and one must stop these acts upon observing the bad conduct is taking place.

4. Stay away from fraud: Do not lie or make up things, because lying with bad intentions creates harmful consequences to other people.
5. Stay away from alcohol and intoxicants: Buddhism believes that drunk people will lose their sanity and wisdom, and they also would be unable to control their behaviors. Consequently, people will easily break four above stated rules and in the end, they will meet their bad karma.

Buddha and Sangha. (Photo:daibaothapmandalataythien.org)

Buddha’s Birthday Celebration in Vietnam.

Because of the importance of the Buddha’s Birthday in the spiritual beliefs of the Buddhists, its celebration is held very solemnly on a large scale in many Buddhism-worshipped countries. On this day, millions of Buddhists in Vietnam will perform rituals such as parades, ceremonies, dropping flower pots to the river, and organizing Buddhism teaching sessions. In addition, the Buddhists erect grand stations and decorate flower carriages to give pagodas.

One of the most important rituals is the “Bathing the Buddha” ritual, which is a watering ceremony on the newborn Buddha statue. The meaning of this ritual is  to eradicate negativity and enhance purity of each Buddhist.

Bathing the Buddha (Photo: daibaothapmandalataythien.org)

Moreover, Buddhists can become volunteers at pagodas by helping with some chores, charity work, cleaning and decorating Buddha altars, and then they can enjoy vegetarian meals together.

Vegeterian meal. (Photo: media.cooky.vn)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you have any problem travelling in Vietnam, whether it’s food problem or anything else, please don’t hesitate to contact us for more assistance. We will be thrilled to help.

Writer: Linh Dang.
Translators: Diem Nguyen, Nhat Nguyen.

How Mid-Autumn Festival Celebrated In Some Asian Countries

Not only in Vietnam, but the Mid-Autumn Festival has been welcomed as one of the most significant occasions in other Asian countries such as China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, etc. In each nation, the festival has a particular meaning which leads to its different celebration.

 Vietnam – The Festival of Children    

The main subject of the Mid-Autumn Festival in Vietnam is children. It is the time when children receive a lantern to play with their friends, enjoy pieces of mooncakes to fulfil their sweet appetite and watch joyful lion dance performance. During the night of the festival, the scenery of children holding lanterns and parading along the streets is sure the most beautiful image of the Mid-Autumn Festival in Vietnam.

Lion Dance (Photo: Vietnam Travel)

China – The Mooncake Festival

Mooncakes have been long recognized as an iconic object of the festival in the Chinese traditions, symbolizing the completeness and reunion. On this special day, no matter how busy they are, Chinese usually come back home to spend time with their families. Under the full Moon, family members sit together in the open air, talk with one another, and enjoy a piece of mooncakes in companion with a cup of tea. For those who are living far away and cannot make the way home, appreciating the Moon brings the feeling as if they were there with their families because the Moon is absolutely the same one no matter where they are.

Chinese mooncakes (Photo: Bridges Chinese Network) 
Japan – The Festival of Moon Observing

In Japan, the Mid-Autumn festival is also called as Otsukimu, literally meaning moon-observing (お月見)(Lễ hội ngắm trăng). Besides, the festival is the time for Japanese to honour the Moon in the autumn, the brightest moon throughout the year.

In the past, while appreciating the Moon, Japanese usually enjoyed white-round glutinous rice cakes put in a food tray in the middle of house yard. However, as some Japanese told me, this tradition has long been faded, and Japanese nowadays do not eat this cake any longer.

A typical Japanese food tray at Otsukimu Festival (Photo: wallcoo.net)

4/ Korea – Chuseok Festival

In Korea, the Mid-Autumn festival has the other name of Chuseok Festival (Lễ Tạ ơn in Vietnamese,) primarily aiming at cherishing bumper harvests and taking reverence for the ancestors. During the festival, Koreans have a tendency to make a three-day trip to their hometowns to reunion with family members and friends.

The typical of Korean traditional food in the festival is a kind of crescent moon-shaped cake called songpyegon (Bánh gạo) served with sindoju (type of native alcohol.)

Chuseok Festival (Photo: Jak Wave)

Singapore – Going on excursions       

It seems to Singaporeans that Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the golden chances to get away from all worries of hectic lifestyle. Therefore, instead of having family gatherings, they prefer to spend time travelling or even going off the beaten track.

However, mooncakes and lanterns are still typically irreplaceable signals of the festival. Singaporeans usually send some boxes of mooncakes as gifts to beloved ones and do not forget to attach some wishes for them.

A lantern street in Singapore (Photo: omy)

6/ Malaysia – The Mooncake and Lantern Festivals

In Malaysian, the Mid-Autumn Festival is split into two important events, including Mooncake Festival (from 19th to 21st Sep) and Lantern Festival (16th Sep.) Generally speaking, Malaysians celebrate the festival in the same way as Vietnamese, including appreciating the moon, enjoying mooncakes, and decorating lighting lanterns. What’s more, the Chinese communities in Kuala Lumpur often join in such exciting outdoor activities as lion dance, dragon dance and lantern parade on the streets.

A house-sized lantern in Malaysia (Photo: Malaysian Meanders)

7/ Thailand – The Prayer Festival

The Mid-Autumn Festival is also called “Prayer Festival” by Thais. It is the time to pay a token of gratitude to nature for its bounty and to remember their ancestors. The Chinese temples in Thailand are mostly crowded with people offering incense, candles and fruits to the Moon Goddess. Moreover, Thais usually offer a kind of peach-shaped cakes to the Buddha on that day and then family members gather around the table with the offerings to worship the Moon, pray and exchange greetings.

Peach-shaped cakes (Photo: City Nomads)

Tien Vo

How Vietnamese Celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival?

Every year in August (Lunar Calendar,) when the Moon reaches its fullness, it is the time when every Vietnamese can go back to be a kid, setting aside work and spending more time with their beloved ones. Also, it is regarded as the children’s festival which is always the festival that the children are looking forward to the most.

I/ Family Reunion

1/Appreciating the Moon

The round shape of the full moon represents fullness and reunion. That’s why people usually come back home on this day to spend time with their family. For those who are living far away and cannot make the way home, appreciating the Moon brings the feeling as if they were there with their families, because the Moon is absolutely the same one no matter where they are.

2/ Enjoying Mooncakes 

On this special day, family members sit together in the open air with the full moon above, talk and share stories with one another, and enjoy a piece of mooncakes with a cup of tea. The cool night seems to be warmer and warmer.

Typically, mooncakes measure around 5 to 10 centimeters across and up to 5 centimeters deep. Most mooncakes have a pastry skin enveloping a sweet and dense filling. There are two main types: baked cake (Bánh Nướng) and chilled cake (Bánh Dẻo). Their particular recipes result in the great discrepancy in the crusts and the compositions of fillings.

II/ Children’s Festival

Each time Tet Trung Thu (Mid-Autumn Festival) approaches, it is always greatly welcomed by children. Because on this day, they can enjoy pieces of sweet mooncakes, play with red lanterns, watch lion dances and wear paper masks.

1/ Red lanterns

The moment when the night falls down is the time for the festival to start. Vietnamese children will hold a lantern in one hand and walk with their friends in a small and lovely parade on the streets. The night suddenly becomes brighter with the tiny lights from each lantern and also more joyful with the laughter and excitement of the children.

Traditionally, the lanterns, as a toy and ornament, symbolized fertility, sending a wish for the sun’s light and warmth to return after winter. They were created in the shapes of natural things, myths, and other familiar figures in daily lives. But today they have come to symbolize the festival also.

Unfortunately, handcrafted lantern making industry has declined in modern times due to the availability of mass-produced plastic lanterns, which often depict popular characters such as Pokémon’s Pikachu, Disney characters, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Hello Kitty.

2/ Lion dances

At some places, lion dances also contribute to the cheerful atmosphere of the festival with the skillful movements of the lion figures and happy smiling moon-face of Ong Dia (The Lord Earth.)

The performance will first start with some small activities led by adults, then further excitement rises when drumbeats ring out. The smaller kids shrink back and the older ones run forward as a mythical lion bursting into their courtyard with its giant head and sinuous body controlled by many skillful dancers. The most astonishing session is the lion with its open mouth and protruding eyes approaching to the crowd gradually, making the kids scream and laugh at their antics. The happy smiling moon-face Lord Earth, called Ong Dia in Vietnamese, dances around the lions and urges the people surrounding to involve in their dances.

3/ Paper mask

In addition, another traditional toy plays an irreplaceable part in the childhood of Vietnamese children – MẶT NẠ GIẤY BỒI (Paper Mask)

In the past, grandparents and parents often made paper masks for their children in Mid-Autumn festival. Paper masks are created in various interesting shapes like animals and funny faces. The main materials for these masks are paper, cassava flour boiled into glue, paint and brush.

Today, the job of making paper masks is still maintained in some provinces in Northern Vietnam, where paper masks are a cherished and endeared tradition among the locals. During the night of the festival, the scenery of children wearing paper masks and holding lanterns while parading along the streets is sure the most beautiful image of Mid-Autumn Festival in Vietnam.

Four Fairy Tales In Mid-Autumn Festival

Have you ever wondered why The Moon Man (Chú Cuội,) The Lady of the Moon (Chị Hằng,) White Rabbit (Thỏ Trắng) and Lanterns (Đèn Lồng) have become irreplaceable symbols of the Mid-Autumn festival? In the Eastern philosophy, every iconic emblem is capable of imparting a great deal in terms of social traditions and meaningful morals. And there are always some legendary tales that have brought about these lovely figures and objects.

  1. CHÚ CUỘI – THE MOON MAN

Once upon a time, a peasant named Cuoi discovered a big banyan tree in the forest that could be used for curing many diseases. He carried the tree back home and told his wife to take good care of the tree by the purest water, otherwise it will fly into the sky. One day, forgetting her husband’s instruction, Cuoi’s wife was urinating into the tree. And the holy tree began to fly into the sky. Cuoi returned just right at that moment, and immediately hooked his axe into the tree’s root to pull it down. Unfortunately, Cuoi was brought to the moon and could not return ever since.

  1. CHỊ HẰNG – THE LADY OF THE MOON

The story beginning with the husband of Chị Hằng, named Hậu Nghệ, was revered for his brave and talent when shooting down 9 of the 10 suns with his bow and arrows to save humans. One day, Hậu Nghệ received the elixir of immortality from the Lady Queen Mother. A neighbor heard of it and tried to take it from Chị Hằng while he was away.

In a moment of desperation, Chị Hằng swallowed the liquid and immediately became a Goddess and flew into the sky. Because she still cared so much for her husband, she landed on the place closest to Earth, the Moon. When Hậu Nghệ looked up to the sky to call out her name, he saw that the moon that night was especially bright which allowed him to catch a glimpse of Chị Hằng.

  1. THỎ TRẮNG – WHITE RABBIT

In the olden days, there lived a brave and kind-hearted white rabbit called Tho Trang . One moonlit night in the forest, Tho Trang  and his friends held a party to welcome the Moon. During the party, they suddenly heard a scream – a human scream. They immediately ran to check and what they found was an old man fainted from hunger. While they were trying to help the man, a cunning fox quickly stole all the food in the party.Tho Trang and his friends tried to search for food to rescue the famished man.

Unfortunately, there was no food left. Brave Tho Trang abruptly jumped into the fire to roast himself as food to feed the man. However, it turned out that the old man was not a normal human, but a fairy, who had disguised himself as a beggar to test the kindness of the children. The fairy was so moved by Tho Trang’s self-sacrifice that he took the rabbit with him to the moon. Since then, Tho Trang has become a ritual animal in the Mid-Autumn Festival.

  1. ĐÈN LỒNG – LANTERNS

Presumably there was a small but prosperous village lying near the river. Suddenly, there was a monster looking like a carp came and killed the villagers. Every 15th August (Lunar calendar), so many people were killed by the carp monster that they decided to leave the village for good.

Luckily one day a monk stopped by the village. After hearing the story, he told the village to make a large lantern in the shape of the carp. Inside of the lantern were small bamboos while the outside was covered with a red fabric. On 15th August, every house hung the lantern in the front door. The evil carp saw the lantern, thinking it was one of its fellows and then walked away without harming the people inside.

Since then, making lantern in every Mid-Autumn festival has become a traditional custom of Vietnamese people. As time gone by, lanterns are not simply a carp but in more complicated shapes like rabbits, dragons, stars, butterflies, etc.