memories of tet


Today is Vietnamese New Year's eve.  In Vietnam, this season is called Tet.  It has been a long long time since the last time I celebrated this occasion on my country soil.

Tet holds many special memories for me.   I remember every year, a few days before Tet, my mom would buy for our home a beautiful branch of cherry blossoms with a few blooms and many buds.  She said we have to tend it carefully so that we will get many blooms on new year's day, then many luck will enter our house.  On the morning of the eve, she would cook all these special dishes for an early dinner, and then that evening, my mom, dad (they were together then) and grandma would make Banh Chung (sweet rice covered mung beans and bacon all wrapped in banana leaves).  We would load them into a big pot and begin with the long cooking process !  Instead of cooking over our usual coal stove, my mom would bring a fire pit into our family room (also my grandma's bedroom, it's a big room) and she would load wood in it and we cook the Banh Chung pot on it.   It takes about 6 hours to cook them and we just sit there as a family, watching it cook, talking, laughing, listening to my grandma telling stories.  We would grill some squid or sweet potatoes next to the pot on the fire pit.

When it's near midnight (while Banh Chung still cooking) my dad would hung a long brick or two of pink firecrackers on a long stick, light each brick and stick it out our window and the firecrackers would crackle and explore into clouds of pink poofs.  Every single house on the street does the same thing so imagine the loud noise of firecrackers ringing down the street and exploding throughout the night.  We compete to see who's the loudest !  Us kids loves loves loves the firecrackers.  We look forward to this the whole year.  Actually, this and another event during TET, it's called Mung Tuoi for us northern (Li Xi for the southern) people.

On the morning of the 1st day of the lunar New Year, in our culture, family friends and neighbors are to visit each other's house to bestow good well wishes on them.  And every adults are to give money to the kids.  We don't have red envelop then, just plain beautiful colorful paper cash !  I spent my stash on toys and stationaries.  I don't remember what my brother did with his.  He was too young then so maybe my mom kept his :)

There are also many superstitious rituals that we followed on the 1st day of the lunar new year ! We were christians then but still practice a lot of "inherited" ideas.  We avoid cleaning the house (especially sweeping, we don't want to sweep all the luck out), we avoid breaking anything (especially mirror), and we don't do anything that we don't want to do for the whole year.  Common belief is that we only do good things and say good words so the rest of the new year will be filled with goodness.  

When our parents finished welcoming in all the guests and lugging us around visiting families and friends, my brother and I would go inspect our front street, which is now a battlefield of tiny pieces of pink paper, piles upon piles of them, much like confetti.  We would comb through the exploded firecracker corpses, hoping to find one that didn't explode yet.  We would collect them and gather them up along with other kids in our neighborhood.  Then the gang would go searching for a perfect power pole or a cement wall with a good size hole.  One brave kid will stick a firecracker into the hole, light it up and we all run away with hands covered over our ears.  It was good fun.  No one ever got hurt.  Thank God.

These aren't my pictures, just some I found on the internet
The fun continues on to the 2nd and 3rd day of the lunar new year.  We repeat our firecracker hunt each day, munch on roasted red watermelon seeds, enjoy many sweeten dried fruits (called "Mut"), and eat a lot of Banh Chung !  It was the best time of the year.  So much commotions all around and there's an air of jubilant everywhere you go.  3 days of celebration and the whole city/town is in on it together.

I miss Tet.  I miss the way we used to do Tet.  It's the only time in the year that I miss Vietnam.  We celebrate it here in Canada every year, we try to make it a special time for our family but a part of me, as I'm sure my mom as well, miss the good old days.  Time changes many things, strips away many things.