photos and blog by Daniel Jun, Greenheart Travel Scholarship Winner in Vietnam
This past week (February 10-16, 2013) was the Tet holiday, a celebration of the 2013 Lunar New Year. Like many other Asian countries, Vietnam celebrates New Years according to the lunar calendar instead of the western January 1. The New Years also signifies the coming of spring, which in Vietnam begins in February. During Tet, all schools and work places are closed for a week and most of Hanoi is shutdown. No shops or restaurants are open, especially during the first 3 days, and many Hanoi residents return to their hometown to spend time with family and relatives. I stayed in Hanoi during Tet, but with some planning, was able to keep myself busy.
During the weeks leading up to Tet, many new stands, items, and decorations were setup. The atmosphere was similar to that of Christmas back in New York, minus the snow and freezing weather. Flower markets sprung up throughout the city with the main purchases being mandarin and cherry trees. They are the equivalent of the Christmas tree and nearly every house has at least one for Tet since they symbolize spring, which is when the trees bloom. In addition, many items in red, such as lanterns, signs, and ornaments, are sold in shops for decorations of homes and trees; red symbolizes luck and good fortune for the New Year. Large decorations and lanterns are also hung up in the streets in celebration of Tet.
On New Year’s Eve, which was on Saturday the 9th, fireworks were in display throughout the city. The most popular show was at Ho Kiem Lake, which I had the opportunity to see. The area around the lake was very crowded and festive, with two large stages setup for performances along with several street performers and many food sellers. The fireworks were fantastic, especially with their reflections off the lake.
Although most of the city was closed during Tet, the temples and pagodas were open all week and were full of visitors. During this time, many Vietnamese people go to pray and give offerings for luck, success, and good health in the New Year. They also visit the Temple of Literature to receive lucky charms to hang in their homes. In addition to the typical charms for luck and health, many students purchase charms to help them pass upcoming exams. Tet is also a time for being generous, and many people give and receive lucky money in red envelopes from older relatives, friends, and even bosses. In some companies, employees receive lucky money from several people (from the CEO to the division manager) in a total of a month’s salary. This money is similar to a bonus and the amount depends on the success of the company in the previous year.
During Tet, I also had the chance to visit two villages. Phuong and Que, the directors of CSDS, and Huan, a CSDS coworker, both invited me to spend a day in their respective hometowns. At Phuong’s and Que’s hometown, Quoc Oai District, I had New Years Eve dinner and met their large family. At Huan’s village, Trung Oai District, I was able to attend one of the largest festivals in all of Vietnam on Friday the 15th. Both villages were great opportunities to get out of Hanoi and visit the countryside, which was awesome.