Posted by: sharemore1 | January 29, 2012

The Year of the Dragon: Preparing for Tet

The Year of the Dragon

Tet, the Lunar New Year, is a special time throughout Viet Nam to honor ancestors, to be with family and to welcome spring.

2012 is the Year of the Dragon, a most auspicious year.  The powerful dragon conveys good luck, strength, wisdom and an especially promising future for baby boys.  It portends good fortune for others as well, bringing such blessings as promotions, wealth, health, property, good marriages and new children.

For the first time my husband Moshe and I were in Viet Nam during Tet, which we experienced both in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.  The traditions, borrowed from the Chinese and refined to express Vietnamese customs, go back more than 1,000 years.

Peach Trees in the North

Apricot Trees in the South

In our travels we observed some regional differences:  people decorate their homes with pink-blossomed peach trees in the North, while those in the South prefer apricot trees with yellow flowers.  They both like trees with kumquats or small mandarin oranges.

Tet is a little like combining Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and everyone’s birthday in one long holiday.  There’s even a dash of Passover or Easter thrown in as people celebrate the coming of spring.  Imagine having a multi-day open house, welcoming your extended family, close friends, teachers, colleagues and even your ancestors in your home, while also paying visits to others.  It must, at times, seem overwhelming.

Bringing Home the Kumquat Tree

Husbands and sons strap kumquat and peach or apricot trees onto their

Selling Paper Clothes

motorbikes and weave through traffic with bright orange fruit and colorful blossoms bobbing behind them.  We saw a woman shopping for a tree with her young daughter, who perched on her mother’s motorbike as she helped choose the perfect tree.  One street vendor piled brightly colored bags of paper clothes so high on her bicycle that she almost disappeared.  Those who don’t want to go out to buy flowers can arrange for home delivery.


Shopping for a Tree

Home Flower Delivery

A week before Tet, we left cold, drizzly Hanoi (500F) and flew to warm, sunny Ho Chi Minh City (800 F).   At night we joined the crowds on Nguyen Hue Flower Street to wonder at the giant dragons and displays of yellow marigolds and chrysanthemums.  The packed street was closed to vehicles and turned into one-way pedestrian walkways.

Crowds in Ho Chi Minh City

Dragon Fruit Trees

In the markets, we saw the same frenetic activity we had witnessed in

Fruit from the Mekong Delta

Hanoi as customers stocked up for the holiday.  In addition to apricot, kumquat and mandarin trees, plants full of plump red dragon fruit were loaded onto motorbikes.  It was hard not to get in the shopping spirit as the mounds of colorful produce, fresh from the Mekong Delta, beckoned us. The bargaining was intense and the prices went up as New Years approached.

At home, women were busy cleaning and decorating, adorning their fruit trees with greeting cards and good luck symbols, cooking at least three days worth of food, making sure their debts were paid, visiting the beauty parlor and laying out their best clothes.

Everything had to be done by New Year’s Eve, which fell on Sunday, January 22nd this year.  After that some establishments would be closed for up to nine days.  For many workers, it’s the only respite they get all year from a seven-day workweek.  By the time we returned to Hanoi on Sunday, shops were shuttered and the streets were quiet.

The Mansion Cafe

The cook at the Mansion, our local cafe, had already gone home but the owner took pity on us and asked his wife to fix us a bowl of instant noodle soup with chicken.  Fortunately friends had filled our refrigerator while we were gone so we had enough to eat for the next few days.

At midnight on New Year’s Eve, crowds gathered to watch fireworks near Hoan Kiem Lake, in the heart of the Hanoi.  But for the most part, the public displays of Tet were over as the city turned inward.  People had returned to their villages or retreated to their apartments to be with family.


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  1. Love this post. As a dragon, I am excited for the arrival of my year sign. I’m looking forward to an especially lucky year.

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