The Lunar Year of the Ox
By Katherine Burnett
The Lunar New Year holiday is the happiest time of year in Vietnam. It is known simply as Tết.
Red and yellow decorations are the colours of good fortune and prosperity, which is why you see red banners with yellow lettering everywhere during Tết.
Traditional Vietnamese women’s clothes are called “Ao dai” and are very bright and colourful.
In 2021, Tết begins on our February 12 and lasts a few days. It welcomes the Year of the Ox.
Uan celebrating the Lunar Year of the Mouse in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
And why, this month, am I so interested in Tết?
Since September 2020, we at Lady Baker’s Tea have had the pleasure of sharing our office with Uan, a fairly new immigrant from Vietnam and our new Managing Director. Her love for people and culture is contagious. She has intrigued us with her desire to learn and together we talk about ‘how we do things’ in our different cultures.
I looked up a few interesting facts on the internet about Tết, the Lunar New Year and how it is celebrated in Vietnam, but I couldn’t do better than getting the scoop from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. So, I interviewed Uan.
1. What is the first childhood memory you have of Lunar Year celebrations?
One week before 1st Jan Lunar year, kids are always excited with many dreams about the first 3 days of Lunar year.
When I was between 5 and 8 years old, I could not sleep leading to 30 Dec Lunar year. I went to bed early that night, waiting for tomorrow.
In my mind, I imagined a wonderful schedule for the first day of Lunar year - receiving the lucky money in red envelopes, eating sweet dried candied fruits, playing with red firecrackers, visiting Colorful Spring festival, watching dragon dancers and wearing new clothes.
Uan wearing beautiful traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai
It was such a sweet and peaceful night. I always slept with big dream 😊 for tomorrow! I imagined the world would become a Wonderland from tomorrow to 1st January Lunar year.
When I became an adult, I heard from the other adults,
“the most beautiful moment for New Lunar year is the night of 30 December Lunar year. At that night, people always feel peaceful because tomorrow they will have a family reunion and they can talk and hug all the people they love. What happened to them last year, whether good or bad, is forgotten that night in anticipation for tomorrow.”
2. Who gave you gifts and what were the gifts that you remember getting when you were growing up?
I was born 6 months before the Vietnam war. When I was 5 years, it was an amazing gift to have Lunar Year celebrations. After the war, my country was very poor. There was not enough food to eat and no fabric to make new clothes for kids to celebrate Lunar Year. The biggest dream of the kids was to wear the new and beautiful clothes in the first day of Lunar Year. My older sister and I were waiting and waiting for it.
My mom tried many ways to get the fabric, but she could not. My sister and I knew it. We understood our situation and we were very sad. But we still hoped a magic thing would happen. Yes, it happened! The first day of the Lunar Year at that time, my mom gave to me and my sister 2 new shirts. We were so happy and surprised! My mom did not sleep the previous night because she made our 2 sets of clothes from the fabric of her favourite dress! The colour was a bright sky blue with some embroidered light pink flowers. This dress, she really loved and she only wore for special occasions.
My sister and I wore these clothes during 3 days of the Lunar New Year at that time. We took the picture together. This picture has been with us until now. In my heart, there are no clothes more beautiful than these - the most wonderful gift for Lunar New year in my life!
Uan's daughter (age 5) and her cousin dressed up and excited for Tết in 2010
3. Was there a special activity your family took part in with each other or community members like a meal, dance, party?
1st January Lunar year, the family visited my parents’ house first. All of us dressed up very carefully. We exchanged New Year’s Wishes! Kids received the lucky money always in red envelopes. My parents' house at that time was always busy because the other families also visited at the same time. It is the culture that the younger ones have to visit the senior’s houses. A favourite gift for the seniors was tea in a box. In front of my parents' house, there was an Apricot tree in blossom. These yellow flowers are symbolic of Lunar New Year in South Vietnam.
Yellow Apricot blossoms on display in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
My parents decorated the Altar for Worship of the Ancestors with marigolds and Five-fruit tray (5 kinds of fruit can bring wishes to come true). All younger members of family must visit the Altar on their best, respectful behaviour.
Then we had the meal together. It was not a meal of normal lunch or dinner. It was the special foods only for Lunar New Year: square glutinous rice cake, jellied meat, pickled onion, lean pork paste, pickled small leeks and dried candied fruits. All of these kinds of food, my mom made by herself! She spent 2 weeks (at least) before 1st January Lunar year to make them.
Another beautiful Ao Dai worn by Uan
During the meal, we talked and shared our plans and dreams for the next year. We only talked about good things, never mentioning bad things in the new year as that brings bad luck.
Then we hurried to the other houses of aunts, uncles and friends. All our relatives and friends were happy to see us! If we still had more time, my friends and I went out to watch the music show and my parents visited the Spring festival.
4. What did your children like to do to celebrate when they lived in Vietnam?
My son and daughter had to follow parents to visit the senior relatives, where then they were very happy to receive a lot of lucky money!
They invited their friends to visit, eating meals and playing cards together. Then they repeated it in their friends' houses.
5. What do you and your children do to celebrate now that you live in Canada?
Last year, a group of Vietnamese in PEI organized the event to celebrate Lunar New year. My kids joined this event last year.
More festivities during the Lunar Year of the Mouse
This year, with Covid, the group of Vietnamese in PEI will not organize the event but they will try to get some special foods for their families to celebrate in their own houses. Like all cultures this year, we have to celebrate separately to follow the Health plans to stay well.
We don’t know if we can convince Uan to take a few days off to make some special memories for this Lunar Year of the Ox. She hesitates and reminds us that in Canada, she has a job to do and the Canadian New Year has come already!
In honour of Uan and Tết, we decided to run a contest featuring our incredibly milky sweet Moonlong lightly oxidized Oolong tea. Check out our Facebook and Instagram pages between February 8-12 to enter to win a 50g bag of Moonlong tea. Or enjoy 10% off a purchase of Moonlong Tea between February 8-12.
And perhaps we can at least make her laugh during Tết, by adding to her joy with these words:
I enjoyed reading your blog, Katherine! Thank you for sharing Uan’s story with the Vietnamese Lunar New Year. It is very interesting that every Asian country has slightly different cultures to celebrate the Lunar New Year. I hope I can travel to Vietnam when COVID gets over!! Sending loves from South Korea <3
Thank you for sharing. We went to Vietnam in 2019 and found the people to be so warm and friendly. It is an amazing memory and one our most enjoyable vacations.