Lunar New Year is right around the corner on Feb. 5, and just like Christmas in the U.S., people from China, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia will travel miles to reunite with their families and feast on delicious customary food. The Lunar New Year is the most significant holiday in several Asian countries, commonly called “Lunar New Year” because it’s based on the lunisolar Chinese calendar. Different Asian countries celebrate the holiday with their own individual traditions and customs.
This year, Lunar New Year has fallen on the Year of the Pig. The pig is the twelfth zodiac animal, which is — the ultimate symbol of wealth and laziness. According to the Chinese zodiac, men born in the Pig year are optimistic, gentle and not the best with money, as they are very gullible. Women born in the Pig year are full of excitement, as it is said that they like to attend social events and are easygoing. However, women born in this year are also sometimes over-friendly and can forget to give others personal space.
Personally, I grew up celebrating Lunar New Year through my Vietnamese culture. Another name for Lunar New Year in Vietnamese culture is Tet” — a shortened form of Tet Nguyen Dan. Tet is the most important and popular festival for the Vietnamese people during the year. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into the celebration, unlike the common “New Year’s Day,” which follows the Mayan calendar. For Vietnam, the Lunar New Year takes place on the first day of the first month of the Lunar calendar and lasts until the third day.
Tet is a celebration of the arrival of spring and a time to pay respect to our ancestors. It is also a great opportunity for the family to come together. Many family members, especially the elders, will return to their homeland for a reunion — also the busiest and most exciting time to be in Vietnam. For example, my grandparents always make sure to be in Vietnam at least three weeks before Tet, in order to prepare for the celebration properly.
This scarce festival is most significant for a time of meeting. It’s an opportunity to not only invite living family members, but also deceased ancestors and the household genies — also known as the Craft Creator, the Land Genie and the Kitchen God — for a family reunion. The traditional foods that follows Tet also plays an important part of a successful celebration.
SOME TRADITIONAL VIETNAMESE DISHES:
In the days leading up to Tet, each family must cook special holiday food, similar to how Americans make turkey, pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving. Vietnamese people must prepare food the night before Tet to offer to their ancestors when their spirits come to visit. These dishes differ if you belong from the northern, central or southern parts of Vietnam. Below is the most common food to eat during Tet that signifies luck, fortune and happiness:
Banh Chung cakes are made from sticky rice, mung bean and pork wrapped in banana leaves, which is a staple dish for my family and many other Vietnamese people. The colors of the cake symbolizes the earth and the sky.
Banh Mut is candied fruit, similar to the concept of a Gusher. It is a must-have food for every Vietnamese family during Tet — though, it’s more of a snack than a food. Mut is offered to guests when they arrive at a home to give their greetings for a happy new year.
Canh Kno Qua Don Thit is a common dish including bitter melon stuffed with meat. Traditionally, people eat this dish in the few New Year days, hoping that unlucky things in the old year will pass and the New Year will be peaceful.
Xoi Gac is red sticky rice, with the distinctive red color symbolizing good fortune and happiness. It is also an important dish to set out for our deceased ancestors.
VIETNAMESE NEW YEAR TRADITIONS:
Besides food, Tet is full of many traditional rituals that are passed on from one generation to the next. For instance, days before Tet, everyone rushes to get a haircut, buy new clothes, spruce up their home and settle outstanding debts. This is so we can enter into the New Year in peace and harmony, with no past mistakes weighing down on us. For instance, my mom always reminds me to not cut my hair and nails during Tet because it’s considered unlucky.
Another one of the many traditions observed during Tet is the emphasis of who enters your house first in the New Year. As the first person to do so, he/she will set the mood and luck — good or bad — for the family of the house for the rest of the year. In my family, my mom makes my uncle — who she believes has a good aura — walk into our house a few minutes after midnight to ensure good luck and fortune on our family and her business.
One of my favorite traditions — that I hope will continue for me — is “Li Xi,” also known as lucky red envelopes. This is a custom that has been maintained for generations, not just in Vietnamese culture, but also China, Taiwan and Malaysia. The eldest members of the family will give red envelopes with “lucky money” inside to the children and young adults while advising them about their life, school and work. These envelopes symbolize wishes of luck and wealth for their long and happy future. In return, the youth are expected to give some wishes to their elders for good luck, success, longevity and good health in the New Year.
Now that you know the proper way to prepare for Tet — basically Lunar New Year in general — let’s enjoy it! Check out these Lunar New Year events on campus and around Tacoma!
2019 Lincoln District Lunar New Year
Date: Feb. 10
Time: 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
Location: South 38th Street, Tacoma
21st Annual Asian Pacific
New Year Celebration
Date: Feb. 9
Time: 11 a.m.–6 p.m.
Location: Tacoma Dome Exhibition Hall
Tet with VSA
Date: Feb. 15
Time: 6-8 p.m.
Location: UWY room 303/304