There are many superstitions that guide behaviour around Tet time in Vietnam. Here are 5 common practices:
For most Vietnamese people, it’s important to pay back all loans before the end of the old year so that they can start the new year with a clean slate.
No sweeping on the first day of Tet – you will sweep away all your luck!
You mustn’t take out the garbage on the first day of Tet – by all means put your rubbish in the rubbish bin, but under no circumstances should you dispose of it. Keep it safely inside your house until the 2nd day of Tet
No washing clothes either, especially on the 3rd day of Tet.
Avoid crying on the first day of Tet, and don’t growl at or spank your children because it’s bad luck for them to cry as well. You just have to tolerate bad behaviour on this day to avoid anyone spilling any tears.
If you’re wondering why your Vietnamese friends are frantically cleaning their homes at the moment, here’s why:
Once upon a time, a man married a beautiful woman and they were very content, until war broke out and the husband left to join the fighting. The wife waited for him to return home, but he did not come back. Many men asked for her hand in marriage, but she refused, believing her husband was still alive. After 10 years of waiting, she decided to search for him. She walked the streets and countryside for over 2 years but her efforts were fruitless. One day, she collapsed from exhaustion on the side of the road and would probably have died had not a kind man passing by noticed her. The man helped the woman to recover, and soon fell madly in love with her. She accepted his marriage offer, and moved into his small farm house.
One day, while her new husband was working in the fields, a beggar came to the house and asked the woman for food. The woman instantly recognized the beggar as her first husband, but sadly he didn’t recognize his wife, for he had sustained amnesia in the war. The woman fed her first husband and allowed him to sleep outside, nearby the house. Her new husband unexpectedly arrived home from the fields early, and the wife, fearing that he may become jealous, hid her first husband under a pile of straw, where he peacefully continued to sleep. She then went inside the house to prepare a meal for her new husband, who stayed outside, and wanting to remain useful while he awaited his meal, decided to light the pile of straw to make ash to fertilize his fields. The woman smelt the smoke from the burning pile of straw, ran outside, saw that her first husband was burning alive and threw herself on the fire. The new husband, seeing that his wife was burning to death, also threw himself onto the fire, and all 3 people died.
The Chief God was watching this scene unfold from heaven, and felt pity for all 3 people and decided to make them Kitchen Gods. To this day, the 3 Kitchen Gods live in our homes and once a year, on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month, they write a report to the Chief God about how each of us lives our life. For this reason, Vietnamese people must ensure their homes are spotlessly clean before this special day. When the report has been written, the Kitchen Gods fly up to heaven on 3 fish (which the householders must leave for them) and once the Kitchen Gods fly over the cloud gates of heaven, they become dragons. If you buy a set of paper goods to burn for Kitchen Gods’ Day, you’ll notice that inside the pack there are 3 sets of clothing – one set for a woman, and 2 sets for men, plus 3 golden paper fish. Now you’ll understand why.
Q. Why can’t I visit my VN friends on the 1st day of Tet?
A. Because Vietnamese families carefully plan who will be the first person to cross the threshold of their homes on this special day. They will usually ask someone who is very successful to do the honours. The family’s luck for the entire year rests on the first visitor of the New Year.
Q. To whom should I give li xi (lucky money) & how much should I put in each envelope?
A. You can give lucky money to anyone, regardless of their age or wealth in relation to yours, but it’s most common to give li xi to children. Any amount from 10,000 vnd upwards is acceptable, and make sure the bank notes are crisp and new. US$2 notes are a real crowd pleaser – you can buy these in Ha Trung St at any of the gold shops.
Q. What colours should I wear on the first few days of Tet?
A. Avoid wearing black or white, as these colors are associated with death and funerals. Red or yellow/gold are considered the luckiest colours, but anything bright will do.
Q.What gifts should I avoid giving to others during Tet?
A.No knives or scissors, nothing black in colour and nothing that measures time eg watches