Preparations for the traditional Tet, the Vietnamese New Year
- on Feb 7, 2021       By: BN
In a few days the most important festival in Vietnam will take place: the traditional Tet or Vietnamese lunar New Year. This feast, which symbolizes ancestor worship, reunion and family celebrations, cannot be improvised and requires a lot of preparation. Let’s find out how the preparations for Tet are undertaken in Vietnam.
Choosing the Tet tree
If Western customs have their Christmas tree, Vietnamese houses are also decorated with a tree for the New Year. It is one of the major elements of the Tet holiday and the Vietnamese choose it with great care because its function is to ward off evil spirits. In Northern Vietnam as in Hanoi, we will preferably choose a peach tree or a kumquat, which are also popular in the central, while in the South, we will focus on an apricot tree.
Peach blossoms, a beautiful deep pink colour, embody luck and prosperity when apricot blossoms, bright yellow in colour, bring serenity. On the first day of Tet, if the first flowers appear then it will bring good luck to the home. Families rush to the markets to buy the coveted tree with a few red envelopes on the branches, lined with a few banknotes, for children. In all cities of Vietnam, on the occasion of the Vietnamese New Year, you will see street vendors selling the Tet tree and motorcycles responsible for the main decoration element of this traditional festival.
Cleaning and decorating the house
On the occasion of this great feast, all the members of the family clean their home in order to welcome the guests and also to make way for the return of the ancestors. Moreover, it will be necessary to ensure that the ancestral altar is very clean, well flowered, that the offerings are placed there as they should. Tet being the symbol of renewal, it is unthinkable to start the New Year in a house that is not clean! The house is also decorated to bring cheerfulness and welcome spring. We then have red and gold decorative objects, symbolizing prosperity and happiness, calligraphy, fruits and flowers such as yellow chrysanthemums symbolizing longevity.
The bustling markets of Tet
A few days before Tet, the markets experience incredible turmoil. The Vietnamese come in large numbers to make the purchases that will be used for its preparation and its conduct. People come to the market to buy all the food products necessary for the Tet meal: fruits, vegetables, meats, herbs, spices but also alcohol. You should also think about buying all the items that will be used for decoration. In Hanoi for example, we go to the old quarter, more precisely to Hang Ma Street, known for being the street of votive objects and papers. A street which on this occasion is the most colourful in the city with all the shops adorned with red and gold.
Traditional Tet dishes
A family celebration par excellence, Tet is an opportunity to get together with the family around traditional dishes, very often prepared as a family, which before sharing are presented at the ancestral altar. If the Tet meals vary according to the climatic and cultural peculiarities of each region, the two common and essential dishes in the three regions of the country are the sticky rice cakes of square shape (bánh chÆ°ng) and oblong (bánh tet). These two cakes are made from sticky rice, mung beans and pork, then steamed and wrapped in “dong” sheets.
The banh chung is rectangular to symbolize the Earth while the bánh tet, circular in shape, symbolizes Heaven. These two traditional cakes pay homage to ancestors, Heaven and Earth. Boiled chicken is another essential dish during the Tet meal. It is usually served with sticky rice and bánh chÆ°ng. In Hue, we very often serve boiled pork, fermented pork or fried fish, while in Saigon we prefer pork with caramel with eggs and coconut milk.
The five-fruit platter is another must-have for the Tet festival. Again, from one region to another the fruits are different. In the North of Vietnam, we have bananas, grapefruits, persimmons, tangerines and kumquats while in the South, we favour watermelon, papaya, mango, pineapple, coconut or dragon fruit. The tray with the 5 well-arranged fruits will then be placed on the ancestral altar.
At the end of the meal, the guests meet in front of a cup of tea accompanied by candied dried fruits. Treats delight children but also visitors who will come to visit the family to present their wishes.
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