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Starting Chinese New Year Off With a Bang

Starting Chinese New Year Off With a Bang

Think back to New Year's Day on January 1st. What did you do? Who did you talk to? How did you act?

Well, you better hope you started the year off right, because however you spent your New Years Day will reflect the rest of your year!

While this statement may sound silly or overly superstitious, those who will celebrate Chinese New Year, or in Vietnamese, Tet, on February 19 are familiar with this concept.

Tet is an annual celebration that varies depending on the ever-changing lunar calendar. Filled with superstitious rituals, games, money, and well-wishing, the three days of this celebration certainly give credence to the Vietnamese phrase "Thang dieng la thang an choi": "The first month of the lunar calendar is a month of celebration!”

Tet is a celebration for the whole family. In fact, much emphasis is placed on deceased ancestors and elders during Tet. Families pay homage to their ancestors by praying for them. Younger family members show respect for their elders by offering them food and wishing their elders good health, longevity, wealth, and luck in the new year. Since elders are notorious for giving younger children the newest, most crisp paper money in gilded red envelopes, it certainly pays for the younger children to wish their elders the best!

This money never stays in one's pockets for long, however, because Tet brings out the inner gambler in everyone. From young to old, people gather around tables to engage in friendly group gambling games and cards. "Bo Cua Tom Ca" ("Squash, Crab, Shrimp, Fish") and "Lotto" (a Vietnamese version of Bingo) are two of the most popular games.

Of course, no party is complete without food! Traditional banana leaf-wrapped Vietnamese food is offered from one family to another. "Banh Chung", rectangular-shaped rice cakes with marinated pork centers, and "Banh Tet", cylindrical rice cakes with marinated mung bean centers, are the most widely enjoyed Tet foods. These traditional delicacies are often gifted to elders or close family friends who visit.

Tet is one of the most superstitious Vietnamese holidays, so it makes sense that people would be extremely careful about who they associate with during the celebration. It is believed that the temperament of the first visitor to one's house in the new year will affect that household for the rest of year. Therefore, many households select their happiest and healthiest friend to be their first visitor in the hopes of having good luck for the rest of the year.

When visitors come to the door of a household, they must light a firecracker to announce their arrival. The loud crackling sound also symbolizes the scaring away of evil spirits, since Tet is the occult event between the old year and a new year.

Fittingly, the preparation for Tet involves the purchase of new food and clothes to usher in the new year. The three days that Tet spans involve visiting the houses of grandparents and relatives, offering good wishes, and making sure to start the new year off right.

Even if you don't celebrate Tet on February 19, just remember: 2015 is the year of the sheep, so focus on staying away from baa-d things and keep working on those (Chinese) New Year resolutions!


Catherine is a high school junior in Southern California who enjoys candle-lit dinners in foreign restaurants, long walks in new countries, building friendships, making Oscar-worthy Youtube videos, and, of course, writing. As the editor of Arts & Entertainment for her school's newspaper and a journalist for the LA Times's High School Insider, Catherine lives in an ideal world of words and diverse student culture that is absolutely (well, almost) devoid of math (and other soul-sucking things).


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