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Tet: No Kris Kringle, Evergreens, Presents, or Fruitcake, Just the Jade Emperor, Hoa Doa, Li Xi, and Mut

The Lunar New Year is the most celebrated holiday in Vietnam. Called Tet (pronounced “tdate” and not “tet” the way Americans in hokey war movies do) after Tet Nguyen Dan, this celebration usually lasts a full seven days, beginning with Giao Thua (or New Year’s eve), which falls on January 28th this year.

The Vietnamese uphold several traditions in honor of this holiday. First off, their entire houses are cleaned beforehand. This is to evade sweeping away all the good fortune – a superstition the Vietnamese harbor. In addition, the house is also trimmed with flowers and fruit. Small orange trees and hoa doa (blossoming peach trees) are staples for this purpose. This décor symbolizes rebirth and growth, both desirable things for the coming New Year. On Giao Thua, a ceremony seeing the departure of Ong Tao (or the Kitchen God) also takes place. It is believed that Ong Tao dwells in every Vietnamese household. On the last day of the year, he returns to the Jade Emperor (the big kahuna that rules the heavens) to report on the family’s behavior.

New clothes are also worn to symbolize the coming of a new year. At the toll of midnight, firecrackers are lit to ring in the New Year, as well as scare away any evil spirits that may be wandering about (yes, the Vietnamese are a superstitious people). On the actual first day of the New Year, pagodas or churches are visited and time is spent honoring ancestors. For this purpose, many houses prepare small alters set with fruit, flowers, incense, and portraits of the deceased ancestors. Some people keep these alters year-round in their houses.

Voluminous amounts of fantastically delectable food (such as the Hot Pot Open House occurring at the ACC, 1-4 pm this coming Sunday sponsored by the Chinese Culture Club), mut (sugary, candied fruits) and baked goods is also prepared and eaten in celebration of Tet, and li xi (little red envelopes full of lucky money) are passed out to children in exchange for kind wishes. Sometimes, li xi are also given out as birthday gifts. This is because many Vietnamese do not keep track of the exact dates of their birth (which is why my parents thought I was 17 for the past 3 years). Instead, people say they were born in the year of the symbol of the lunar calendar for that year, and everyone turns a year older on the New Year.

For the remaining days of Tet, dragon dances and gaming (gambling) take place, relatives and friends are visited, and gifts are exchanged. In America, Tet Festivals may be held to give Vietnamese families the opportunity to come together and celebrate old traditions away from the homeland. These festivals can also serve as tools to introduce the culture to non-Vietnamese communities.

Seol-ral: Korean Lunar New Year

Ancestor worship, visiting with relatives, gifts, and children receiving money are not things we associate with New Year’s celebrations but in Korea the bond of family runs deep in the Lunar New Year celebration. Seol-ral, or Korean Lunar New Year is a three day celebration which brings Korean back to their roots as they travel to their hometowns and come together with their families. On the first morning of Seol-ral everyone wears a hanbok, traditional Korean clothes, and performs a ceremony to memorialize their ancestors. Children honor their elders by bowing, and in return are given envelopes of money. Once the morning ceremony is complete the family moves to the ancestral gravesite where they have a large picnic in honor of their ancestors after a ceremony of bowing and paying respect to their ancestors. The traditional food eaten on this day is ddeok-guk, rice cake soup, which is believed to help bring age.

During the celebrations many families play games where both young and old participate. The most common games include Nol-Ttwigi, Kite Flying, and Yut. Nol-Ttwigi is similar to the Western see-saw but instead of sitting participants stand on each end and jump in order to see how high they can force the other person into the air. Yut is a game where four sticks are tossed into the air and combination of markings on the sticks facing upward determines the spaces a player moves along the board.

This year Seol-ral begins on January 29th, and the festivities will continue through the first lunar month as villages celebrate and hold ceremonies to ask the spirits for peace and good fortune in the year to come.

Chinese Lunar New Year

Every year on the night before the Chinese New Year (aka Lunar New Year), my house would be full of the scents of Chinese noodles, fish, chicken, rice, and incense burning in front of an altar. After each member of my family had prayed and added his or her incense to the bunch, it was time for us to feast upon a huge dinner. At the end of the night, my brothers and I each got a red envelope with a crisp new bill inside. We’d call my grandparents in Thailand to wish them a happy new year, and I’d go to bed full and happy and a little bit richer.

Although I always enjoyed the festivities of Chinese New Year, I never really knew the history or reasoning behind this significant Chinese holiday. So I read up on it a bit to educate myself and to offer some information to my fellow AAAers.

In ancient China, it is told, there was a dangerous demon Nian who would enter houses noiselessly to prey on humans. However, Nian was scared of the color red and loud noise, so people began using red decorations, firecrackers, and loud noises to scare him from their homes. These defenses were the origin of Chinese New Year traditions!

Each year, the first day of the Chinese calendar falls on the second new moon following the winter solstice (usually December 21/22). This year we are celebrating the year of the Dog, which begins on January 29th. There are traditionally many celebrations that Chinese people participate in during this time of year. On New Year’s Eve, families gather for large family dinners. Married couples or working adults give younger, single family members or close friends lucky money in red envelopes. At large Chinese New Year celebrations, we can sometimes also see traditional lion dances, fireworks, and firecrackers exploding on the streets. The festivities end on the fifteenth day with the Lantern Festival.

Don’t miss out on celebrating the Chinese New Year on campus! Contact the following groups if you want to volunteer at these events, or just show up to have a great time and learn more about Chinese New Year!

Relay for Life

This will be an overnight event designed to celebrate survivorship and raise money to help the American Cancer Society. Come join our team AAA’s “Wok This Way” or make a donation.

P.S. Those planning on attending this semester’s MAASU can still participate
and help support our team in our efforts to raise money and awareness for ACS.

Contact Althea Acosta for more information at !
Fundraising ideas are welcomed!

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