Happy New Year! Gong Hei Fat Choi!

 This greeting is in Cantonese, not Mandarin, because that’s what you’re most likely to hear in the US.

picture by Lyndon Barnett
picture by Lyndon Barnett

Can you believe we are already one week into the Chinese and Vietnamese New Year?  Traditionally, New Year celebrations went on for a couple of weeks, although today that time has often been limited to as little as one week.

While the Chinese and Vietnamese have many differences in their cultures, they both share a lot of similarities for this major holiday, which the Vietnamese call Tet.

Vietnamese Tet
Vietnamese Tet .   Image from wikipedia

The home is cleaned from top to bottom; debts are ended; animosities are put aside; people visit family and friends; the ancestors are honored; and children are given good luck red envelopes (with money tucked inside).

Most importantly, New Year is a time to celebrate family unity.  If family members are living and working in another city, in another part of the country, or perhaps even in another country, everyone is expected to come home, if at all possible.  This was true even when Mainland China was deep into its Mao period and young people were spread all over the countryside.  On the days beginning and ending the New Year’s period, the trains were suddenly full of people traveling home and back again.

As is so often the case with holidays, special foods are highlighted and shared as gifts and at large dinner parties for family and friends.  For example, during Tet the Vietnamese enjoy Banh Chung (a steamed glutinous rice cake with mung bean and pork), Xoi (sticky rice — soooo good!), Mut (very sweet candied fruits), and Thit Ga (boiled chicken).  Xoi and Thit Ga are especially important because they are also used to honor one’s ancestors.   Among Chinese, long noodles are eaten as a symbol of long life; whole fish as a symbol of abundance and wealth;  Nian gao or New Year cake (a sweet glutinous rice mixture which may also have dates & nuts inside) for prosperity; jai (a vegetarian dish with good luck foods—black sea moss for prosperity, Chinese black mushrooms to fulfill wishes, lotus seeds for birth of sons & family continuation);  long green vegetables to wish a long life for the parents; and sweets to bring a sweet, good life.

Are you seeing a pattern here?   New Year’s celebrations are all about fun, yes, but also family unity, peace and prosperity for everyone.  It’s a great way to begin a new year!

Gong Xi Fa Cai — Happy Chinese new year!*

*(This greeting is in Mandarin)

Internet sites to learn more:

A great site for more information on Tet celebrations is http://vietnam.missouri.edu/CultureCorner.html.  A fun and informative site for the Chinese celebration is http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=258897.  For celebrations in China and the diaspora go to http://www.flightcentre.com.au/travel-news/destinations/top-international-chinese-new-year-festivities/.    To see a short, entertaining, and information full video go to http://www.watchmojo.com/video/id/10541/


Chinese:  www.flightcentre.com.qu/travel-news/destinations/top-international-chinese-new-year-festivities/ by Lyndon Barnett

Vietnamese Tet:  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/2d/Cung_tat_nien.jpg

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