I was asked to share our family traditions for Tet (Chinese New Year). My family mixes Chinese and Vietnamese traditions. I’ll do this in a two-part series because there’s just so much. This is the first part – prep, or the days before new year. The second part will be the actual new year stuff. Every family celebrates differently. I’ve known families that will celebrate for two weeks, families that only do the one day. My family does 3 days of new year. Before we celebrate, though, there is a lot that I have to get done before the new year.
Stomp that bad stuff!
We buy brand new shoes before the new year. The day before new year is when we wear them for the very first time. My mom says that it is to stomp on all of the bad things that happened the past year to get rid of it. So, the whole family gets new shoes. Most of the traditions are specifically for either getting rid of bad luck or bringing good luck to you. I always get a chuckle out of this one stomping through the house with new shoes, imagining the little bits of bad getting thrown off of me.
Come bearing gifts
There are a lot of gift exchanges for new year. The first gift exchange is family to family and is usually food. I usually buy packages of sausage. The sausages are gifts from my family to each of my aunts and uncles families, my parents, my married cousins, and so on. My mom buys everyone mushrooms. My uncle gives everyone banh tet – this is the one I look forward to the most. Banh tet is a colorful sticky rice with mung bean in the middle and is a traditional food from Southern Vietnam (in Northern Vietnam they eat something very similar called banh chung). I usually cut some for breakfast, fry it in a pan, and sprinkle a little bit of sugar on it. It is yummy and I look forward to it every year. I’ll be eating that for the next couple of weeks every morning for breakfast. This particular gift exchange is done before the new year, family to family.
Rich in food.
One of the consistent themes is trying to have an abundance of things that you will want to have during the year. It’s no surprise that food is one of the things seen as very important. To show an abundance of food we make sure that our rice bucket is completely full. This way you will be rich in food during the year. (Just as a side note: I noticed filling our rice bucket is also part of things we do after a loved one passes away. It’s because we believe that their spirit wants to make sure their family is going to be okay so that they can rest in peace. Having your rice bucket full, among other things, conveys the message that we have food and are taken care of. I always thought that was nice.)
Clean house, clean people.
Ah, yes. Cleaning the house. The house should be cleaned before new year’s. If anything, you will have guests during new year’s, so it’ll be nice to have a clean house for them, but the reasoning behind it is to again get rid of all the bad stuff from the previous year. Also, the day before new year’s you are supposed to shower to get rid of the bad stuff, and the day of new year’s you can’t shower. That is because you then don’t want to wash any of the good stuff off. Don’t worry, you can shower the day after new year. 🙂 Many things are done the day or days before new year to get rid of any residual bad stuff, then a lot of things are done on new year’s day to retain all of the good stuff.
It’s all about family.
Family is important. I love that my family places so much value on family. The day before new year we all get together for a family reunion and have a big family feast; it is loud and it is crowded and it is yummy. We eat all kinds of food. The ones that my family makes the biggest deal about: seaweed and round food. Seaweed, for reasons completely unknown to me, represents money. Eating the seaweed will help bring money this coming year. I don’t remember what kind of luck the round food is for, but I’m sure it’s lucky for something. My aunt usually makes a dumpling dessert with a sweet ginger broth, and it’s my husband’s favorite so they’re always giving him big bowls of it.
**Well, I think I got it all. That’s all stuff for before new year’s. Next time I’ll talk about what my family does for the 3 days of Chinese New Year.
*ETA: I knew I would forget something:
About 2 weeks before the new year my whole family goes to temple. It is specifically to give thanks for the blessings of the past year. It is humbling to go as you are gearing up for a new, fantastic year to go to temple and contemplate all that you have.