In januari and februari 2017, we stayed in Ho Chi Minh City. On of our goals was to experience Chinese/Vietnamese New Year on the 28th of January, so we traveled from Phnom Penh to the bustling city of South Vietnam a few days in advance in order to settle down a bit before the festivities would start. That didn’t quite worked out like we thought as we found out that before New Year, or Tết, as the Vietnamese call it, millions of people move from the city to their home villages to spend time with their families. Result: an empty city with mainly closed shops and not much to do.
Nevertheless, we had a great time during the days of Tết, because the city was nice and quiet (people spend around 5 days with their families before returning to the city) and we still managed to find a few places where people hang out during these days, celebrating the beginning of a new year.
Tết, or Vietnamese New Year is the most important celebration in the Vietnamese culture. Tết celebrates the arrival of spring based on the Vietnamese calendar. It takes place from the first day of the first month of the Vietnamese calendar until at least the third day. Many Vietnamese prepare for Tết by cooking special holiday food and cleaning the house. Also, many customs are practiced during Tết, such as visiting a person’s house on the first day of the new year, ancestor worship, wishing New Year’s greetings, giving lucky money to children and elderly people, and opening a shop. Tết is also an occasion for pilgrims and family reunions. They start forgetting about the troubles of the past year and hope for a better upcoming year. They consider Tết to be the first day of spring, and the festival is often called Hội xuân (spring festival).
During the first day of the New Year, you can see little red envelopes everywhere. You can see them hanging in (money)trees and in the hands of excited little children, which they received from adults in their family. Inside these envelopes you can find “li xi” or lucky money, a traditional custom which is very popular. Lucky money is a small amount of money that can bring good fortune to the upcoming year. Besides the money, the tiny red envelope represents the secrecy and privacy to avoid comparison and jealousy between children. The red color, the most popular color appearing in Vietnamese festivals, signifies the prosperity and great luck according to Asian’s beliefs.
In the morning of the first day of Lunar New Year, children and parents will visit grandparents’ home, wishing for a happy new year and great health, showing respect and gratitude, and giving gifts. After that, it is grandparents and adults’ turn to give children lucky money to welcome their new age. “Li xi” tradition has been preserved until today. A red envelope with some new notes carries Vietnamese’ hope for children to “eat more, grow rapidly”, to study well and to have a delightful year ahead.
Back to normal again
After Tết, the city woke up little by little. Around the 2nd of Februari, the endless stream of motorbikes where back, the shops openend their doors and all the food stalls started to sell their amazing street food after a week of silence.
Ho Chi Minh City has woken up and does what she does best: being an absolutely crazy and fascinating city.
(Source for background information: Vietnam online)