TET: Happy Vietnamese Holiday

The Vietnamese follow the lunar calendar when fixing the dates of their festivals. The most important Vietnamese holiday, Tet, marks the lunar New Year. Tet is a joyous time filled with wonderful sounds, color, and scents.

In Hanoi, the capital city, families prepare for Tet by buying flowers, decorations, firecrackers, new clothes, and gifts and cooking Banh Chung cakes, the special Tet food. No family\'s Tet would be complete without having a peach tree in blossom or a mandarin orange tree in fruit in a corner of the living room. This is no easy feat, since Tet comes in the middle winter. But the special effort pays off, as the flowers decorating every market, street, and home help the people to forget momentarily the gray winter skies over Hanoi.

Each family makes a Banh Chung cake from sticky rice, pork, and green beans, all wrapped in large green arrowroot leaves and boiled in a drum for 12 hours. Family members sit around the fire, keeping it going and exchanging stories about the past year and their hopes for the coming one. A "Tet air" brightens conversations and adds a touch of spring to everyone\'s heart.

On Tet\'s Eve, after praying to the gods and ancestors, families gather for a special meal. Children often travel far to be home with their parents and other relatives on this night. After eating, the young people dress up and bicycle around the city in groups. At midnight, firecrackers explode throughout Hanoi, welcoming in the new year. Family members exchange gifts, toast the new year with wine and champagne, and wish each other "Chuc Mu\'ng Nam Mo\'i" (Happy New Year).

On the first day of the new year, only relatives visit each other. The Vietnamese believe that the behavior and personality of the first person who steps over the threshold of a home will determine its occupants\' luck and blessings in the coming year. Therefore, most people wait until the afternoon to visit, hoping to pass the honor of being the first visitor to someone who deserves it. Just in case they are the first, most visitors brush up on their manners and speech so that they can extend their wishes to the family in the best way possible and thus bring the family good luck. The most common wishes are for happiness, prosperity, and a long life.

Tet also is a sacred holiday in Vietnamese life. It signifies the temporary death of nature (the passing of the old year) and the resurrection of the universe (the birth of the new year). It is this belief that gave rise to customs such as leaving the house full of firecracker remains, avoiding quarrels, and extending best wishes to everyone.

At Tet, families give thanks to the god of earth, who is believed to bring luck and good fortune to the family; the god of the kitchen, who sees to it that families have enough to eat; and the god of work and occupations. They also give thanks to their ancestors, who have helped them fare well during the past year. Flowers, fruits, and other food items are placed on the family altars so that the gods and ancestors can enjoy this Tet meeting with those still living on earth.

Plays, games, and competitions highlight the first week of the new year in Hanoi. Musical groups perform on open-air stages, and water puppet shows are staged on the city\'s lake. During the latter, dragons, fish, and mythical sea animals spring from the depths and dance to the folk music of the Red River Delta. On the fourth day, families bring huge homemade firecrackers decorated with colorful paper and silk ribbons to the traditional firecracker competition in a village near Hanoi. The family that brings the biggest and most beautiful firecracker with the loudest boom wins.

All the activities during the Tet celebration reflect the people\'s joy and sense of relaxation. Tet is so special and the Vietnamese enjoy it so heartily that the festive mood lingers on long after the holiday is over.