There's always a certain fervor around Tet. For example, My husband and I don't decorate for any holiday but Lunar New Year. Part of it is that we've no time during Christmas and don't find the decor for other holidays (e.g, Easter, Thanksgiving) to be as festive as the somewhat odd stuff that comes with Lunar New Year territory. All the glitter, gold and crimson speaks to us and makes us cheery. By the time Lunar New Year comes around, we actually feel ready (like we've recovered from the past year) to start over again with hope. As tacky as the stuff looks, I'm drawn to buy a lantern and good luck signs to put up at home.
Though we've accumulated a supply of lanterns and dragons and the like over the years, Tet wouldn't be Tet without going to cho Tet (Tet market). Shopping at a Tet market in Vietnam is much more festive than in the States. Here, it means visiting Viet grocery stores or Vietnamese communities to check out their gold-red packaged goods. I always pick up some candied sweetmeats to supplement what I make at home. Of, course we also look for blossoms and flowers for the house.
Then, you're suppose to have something new to wear too. (The young girl in the photo was probably wearing her spanking new ao dai for Tet!) To that end, I buy a new outfit, or a little ditty to freshen up my wardrobe. For all the fun shopping and decorating, did I mention the house cleaning and cooking? Yes, you're suppose to do that as well, albeit many people buy specialty Tet foods nowadays.
But let's face it, this year is starting off kinda strange, with the presidential election going on (Super Tuesday is next Tuesday!) and worries about the economy. People seem to be more stressed out too.
Have no fear. When money and time are in limited supply, you can still celebrate Tet. At heart, it's a humble holiday about being with family, friends and resting up. Here are some inexpensive, simple things that you can do to get into the spirit:
- Make a traditional couplet in Vietnamese and post it on your front door. No need to do something fancy like the young man in the photo, who was at a San Jose Tet festival. Just download this Word file of a Tet couplet and use it. Change the font to doll things up. The terms capture the essentials for celebrating Vietnamese Lunar New Year:
Neu Cao - New year tree/bamboo
Phao no - Exploding firecrackers
Banh chung xanh - Sticky rice cake filled with pork and mung bean
Thit mo - Luxurious fatty meats
Dua hanh - Pickled shallots
Cau Doi Do - Red couplet hanging side by side
(Note that half the things listed are specific foods! This is a traditional couplet that leans heavily on northern Vietnamese foodways with the preference for banh chung, and pickled shallots, which are both beloved by people of northern descent.)
- Buy a bunch of tangerines or oranges and display them on a nice platter in a prominent spot in your home. They're precious seasonal fruits that are good luck symbols. Pomelos are wonderful this time of the year too.
- On the first day of the new year (February 7 this year), practice Xong Dat, a Vietnamese New Year tradition. The first person to enter your home on the first day of the New Year is suppose to share his/her good/bad fortune with you for the next cycle. I always rig it -- like my parents do. (Some people hire or ask certain auspicious people to drop by!) The deal is this . . . I make my hubby go out of the house through the back door and then reenter through the front door by first knocking on the front door. I feign surprise and open the door. He wishes and blesses our home with a few good luck sentences. After that, it's a done deal and we're set for the year.
- Say "Happy New Year" to people:
- In Vietnamese: Chuc Mung Nam Moi ("Chook moon nahm moy!")
- In Cantonese: Gung Hay Fat Choy! ("Goong Hey Faht Choi!)"
- In Mandarin: Gong Xi Fa Cai! ("Goon Shee Fah Ssai!")
- Read a recipe for Tet Eve (Dem Giao Thua) that doesn't require any cooking, just a tiny bit of reflection. The recipe was sent to me by my friend erin Khue Ninh, an Asian American literature professor.