Meaning of TET
regard Tet simply as New Year, as one would in the
West, would display a poor knowledge of the people of Vietnam.
In spite of its
impressive credentials, the Gregorian New Year has not been
generally accepted in Vietnam, in the countryside in particular.
Our people pay it a courteous homage but reserve their heart and
soul for the traditional Tet.
sometime between the last ten days of January and the middle
part of February.
For a nation of
farmers attached to the land for millennia, it has always been a
festival marking the communion of man with nature. In the flow
of seasons it is a pause during which both the field and the
tiller enjoy some rest after twelve months of labor. In this
period of universal renewal the Vietnamese man feels surging
within himself a fountain of youth. That feeling explains many
fine customs: in the New Year all action should be pure and
beautiful for it may be an omen foretelling events in the twelve
months that follow.
For three days,
one takes extra care not to show anger and not to be rude to
people. The most nagging mother-in-law will make peace with her
daughter-in-law; a quarreling couple will smile pleasantly at
each other; the new world should be the best of worlds. When the
holiday ends, people will resume their activities in a new
spirit following so-called opening rituals in which the
ploughman will open the first furrow, the official applies his
seal to the first document, the scholar trace the first
character with his pen brush, the trader receives his first
As a rule, all
members of the extended family try to spend the holiday (the
idiom used is to “eat Tet”) together under the same roof.
Children vow to be well-behaved and are often given gifts of
cash wrapped in red paper. Several times a day, joss-sticks are
lit on the family altar and offerings made of food, fresh water,
flowers and betel. Family graves are visited, generally, before
the end of the ‘outgoing’ year; fences are mended and the burial
mounds tidied up.
Tet is an occasion for an entire people to share a common ideal
of peace, concord and mutual love. I know of no communal
celebration with more humanistic character.
Sketches for A Portrait of Vietnamese Culture, by Huu
Tet Nguyen Dan
Tet Nguyen Dan,
is the lunar New year Festival and it is the most important
Vietnamese holiday. Tet is the celebration of the beginning of
spring as well as a new year. It is the time for family
reunions, exchanging gifs, best wishes and the beginning of a
Nguyen Dan means the first morning of the first day of the new
period. Officially, it marks the beginning of a new year on the
lunar calendar. In reality, it is a friendly, festive, family
holiday. Painstaking care is given to starting the year out
right, since it is beleived the first day and the first week of
the new year will determine the fortunes or misfortunes for the
rest of the year. In order to start the new year right and set
the best precedent, vietnamese houses are painted and cleaned.
New clothes are purchased for the first day of Tet and old debts
should be paid and great care is taken to avoid arguments.
Families exchange visits. The first visitor to the house on the
first morning of Tet is very important. Particular care is taken
to arrange in advance to have the visitor be rich, happy, and
The holiday is
also observed by a family visit to the church or pagoda to pray
for good fortune and happiness. A sprig of the yellow blossomed.
HOA MAI, is used to decorate the home. Tet officially lasts for
seven days and ends with LE KHAI HA ritual during which CAY NEU
is taken down.
LE TAO QUAN
Feast of the
Household Gods, this holiday falls on the twenty-third of the
twelfth month of the lunar year. The holiday marks the day on
which the chief guardian spirit of the kitchen returns to heaven
to report on the activities of the family. A new spirit is then
assigned to the household for the coming year to replace the
previous one. On the day of Le Tao Quan, each family pays
tribute to the kitchen God. This includes buring sacrificial
gold paper and offering a fish )carp_ for him to ride om his
journey to heaven.
LE GIAO THUA
hour between the old year and the new year. It is one of the
most importamt times during the TET holidays. It occurs at the
midnight hour on New Year's Eve. GIAO THUA is the time when a
family ushers out the spirits of the old year, a ritual called
LE TRU TICH. It is especially important to give a warm welcome
to the Spirit of the Hearth, TAO QUAN, who has been to visit the
Jade Emperor, Drums, gongs and firecrackers announced the hour
of LE GIAO THUA
In Vietnam, the first day of the Lunar New Year is called Tet.
On the days before Tet, people plant an extremely tall bamboo
tree in front of their homes. Bows, arrows, bells and gongs are
hung on the treetop with the hope that all the bad luck of the
past year will be chased away and everyone will have a happy New
Year. The tree is called neu and the story is legend.
Once upon a time, the devil ruled the earth. Everybody worked
for him from early morning until midnight. A very greedy
creature, the devil seized everything made by men for himself.
People worked hard all year round but had almost nothing to eat.
All the fruits of their labor went into the devil's warehouses.
One year, there was a very big crop. Rice fields stretched out
like golden carpets and the devil was so dazzled, he aimed to
take everything and imposed a new rule "the root of the rice
plant belongs to the farmers, the rest belongs to the devil." At
the end of the harvest, the rice went to the devil. The people
had nothing left except clusters of roots.
The suffering of the people came to Buddha's notice. He
descended to earth and told them to grow sweet potatoes for the
next crop. Following Buddha's advice, the farmers grew sweet
potatoes with full hopes of an abundant crop. When harvest came,
following the rule, the peasants took the potato root and left
the rest for the devil.
Knowing that he had been fooled, the devil gave a new order: "
From the next crop onward, both roots and grown plants will
belong to the devil, and the rest to the farmers." This time,
the devil believed he would get the upper hand. In the next crop
cycle, the people grew corn instead where maize cobs grow in the
center of the plant. Once again when harvest came, the farmers
took all the cobs and left the rest behind for the devil. Again
the devil was outsmarted. This time, he made up his mind to take
all of the land and the farmers had no more land to farm.
Because of the people's misfortune, Buddha appeared again and
they began to complain: "How can we live like this?" "Don't
worry" answered Buddha. "Go tell the devil that you want to rent
his land for gold. Just rent a small plot of land enough for a
single bamboo tree. Make sure that the devil will vow that all
land under the bamboo's shadow will belong to you." The people
then collected all the gold they had and went to negotiate with
the devil. Stunned with the gold and believing that they would
certainly be defeated, the devil agreed with the plan at once.
Bamboo trees were planted and they grew straight and luxuriant.
Their shadow spread far and wide with every passing year. The
longer they lived, the more immense their shadow became.
Finally, one day there was no more land for the devil who was
driven out to sea. Since then the people have been free to plant
any kind of crop they want without giving a portion to the
Being deprived of his land, the devil wanted vengeance at any
cost and swore to retrieve his former land. With the support of
wild and ferocious beasts, he let his subjects go to the village
to plunder and loot the crops. Armed with spears and sticks, the
people fought against the hostile forces to guard the rice
fields they had gained at the expense of their own lives. At the
same time, Buddha appeared and advised them to "Go to the forest
and make bows and arrows to kill them and make use of water
mingled with garlic and lime to splash on their faces."
Following Buddha's advice, they made the weapons and waited for
the enemy. When the devil came with his gang, they met tough
resistance from the farmers. Leaving their enemies behind, the
living survivors ran in every direction.
After that enormous defeat, the devil was put back out to sea
and gave up his ambitions to regain the land. His only wish was
that every year he be allowed to return to his former native
village for a visit to his ancestors' graves.
This is the reason why every year when Tet comes, farmers plant
a neu tree in front of their house. The shadow of neu
symbolizes the land acquired by the men in the legend. The
sounds of small bells and gongs on neu remind us of man's
right to own the land and the bows and arrows tell us that they
were once the weapons used to fight off the
A literary art
form of Chinese origin (parallel sentences). A cau doi,
"sentence pair", consists of two sentences or lines. Each line
corresponds with the other meaning as well as tone pattern and
individual word meaning. The cau doi is usually used to convey
good wishes on the Tet holidaya. It is highly specialized form