Everyone knows about Chinese New Year. The festivals. The paper lanterns. The huge family gatherings and the traditional food.
But what many people don’t know is that the Vietnamese celebrate it too!
Vietnamese New Year (aka Tết) is like the Chinese New Year in many ways: it is based on the lunisolar calendar, is the biggest holiday of the year, and is deeply engrained in tradition and custom. Vietnam during Tết will be rampant with lights, performances, and general revelry. Not that I’ve ever seen it– I have yet to visit Asia, much less Vietnam, and even less Vietnam during Tết.
Instead, my family has always celebrated Tết here in America. Granted, I think our parties are a bit toned down compared to Vietnam. We don’t even get an extra day off, like the way many other religious or cultural holidays are honored. But, we persevere.
One such tradition? Our parents like to doll all the girls up in áo dài, the Vietnamese traditional dress. It’s this sort of long silk tunic worn over loose pants. Except we get our áo dài, naturally, from Vietnam. Not America. Where people eat rice and fish and vegetables and stay active. Where girls face enormous pressure to stay as thin as possible. So, as a girl raised in the land of junk food, I find áo dài a little troublesome.
My mom will present to us a wide array of cute áo dài, only for me to discover that only one fits. Usually it’s the dorkiest, most ridiculous, or most obnoxious one. This year I donned a shade of blaring pink:
But dressing up is a good time anyway! Other fun traditions? Kids get “lì xì,” the lucky money handed out in red envelopes. Regretfully, the older you get, the less money you’re likely to receive. But my younger cousin still gets a kick out of it:
On occasion, my family will set up a little altar of our deceased relatives and present an offering of different fruits. My cousins and I were made to pray to our ancestors, asking them to help us in the year to come.
Recreational gambling is also a plus. Every Tết my dad will pull out bầu cua ca cop, a traditional gambling game involving three die picturing a fish, a shrimp, a crab, a rooster, a gourd, and a deer. It’s all chump change, of course– just kids and parents betting their quarters for a little fun.
But best of all? The food! During Tết, traditionally, families will make the extra effort to cook more labor-intensive dishes. What do I mean? For example, bánh chưng, a type of cake, requires simmering for, oh, 6 hours. Not to mention the hours spent soaking the rice and mung beans that go into the dish. And after my grandmother put all that work into making it, our family ate it in about two seconds. Delicious food doesn’t stay around long in my house.
Even more interesting dishes that graced our table this year, though, include these: pork intestine and pork ears. I do not kid.
And that’s just a slice of my culture! I hope one day I can go to Vietnam during Tết. And get a more fashionable áo dài.