Celebrating Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) – Our Family Traditions

Tet, or Vietnamese Lunar New Year, is one of my favorite holidays and it’s one where I enjoy celebrating with my husband and son. For those of you who may not know, I am Vietnamese-American. My parents are both Vietnamese and came to America in 1975. My husband is from South Korea. I am so grateful that my husband is open to learning about my family’s culture and allowing me to pass on these traditions to our son. 

Most people know this holiday as Chinese New Year and that is because the people of Vietnam follow the same calendar. Tet is generally celebrated on the same day as Chinese New Year. We also refer to Tet as Spring Festival.

This year, Tet lands on January 22, 2023 and it is the year of the Rabbit. Unlike the American calendar which is a solar calendar, Tet changes every year because it follows the lunar calendar. It also has an animal sign from the Chinese Zodiac.  

Fun Fact: The Rabbit is a symbol of longevity, peace, and prosperity in Chinese culture. 2023 is predicted to be a year of hope.

I will now list my favorite family Tet traditions. Read on to learn why this holiday is so special to me and why I want to continue these traditions with my son and husband.

Vietnamese New Year#1 – Li Xi (pronounced lee-see) Red Envelopes with “Lucky” Money

Every kid likes money, right? Well, I sure did. I grew up with a bunch of aunts, uncles, and cousins. My grandma had a total of 8 children and her older brother had 10 children. My grandma’s cousins also had children of their own who happened to be older than me. Why is this important? This is important because I knew I would be getting the Li Xi on Tet. In our culture, Li Xi is “lucky” money placed inside a red envelope given to children as a wish of luck, health and good things to come in the Lunar New Year.  I would receive Li Xi whenever I visited my relatives or when they visited our home. In order to receive my Li Xi, I would greet my relatives with a bow and then say my New Year’s wish to them. I would typically say, “I wish you a year of success, prosperity, good health and a long life.” Yes, I loved receiving Li Xi, but most of all, I loved being around my family and celebrating Tet with them.

#2 – Cleaning the House

I remember my mom always sweeping the house the day before Tet. She would tell me, “You never clean and sweep the house on Tet. If you do, you will be sweeping out the good luck.” To this day, I do all my dusting, cleaning and sweeping the day before Tet. It is said, too, that when you clean the house before the New Year, you are removing old things that no longer serve you as well as any bad luck.

#3 – Decorating our Home with Yellow Apricot Blossoms

To this day, my mom, aunts and cousins prepare their home for Tet with beautiful yellow apricot blossoms (Ochna integerrima). These bold, bright yellow flowers symbolize good luck, wealth, good health, happiness and love. Growing up, I loved seeing how these flowers added so much beauty and brightness to our homes and the homes of my family and Vietnamese community. It reminded everyone that the Spring Season was coming soon.

#4 – Dragon Dance

We feel so lucky to see the Dragon Dance every year at Lee Lee International Market right here in Tucson. The market hosts the Dragon Dance and invites all to watch the entertainment and participate in the festivities as the Dragon makes his way through the market. Once the drums start beating, the dragon will start dancing and climbing up towards the red envelopes hanging from the ceiling throughout the market. Once the dragon collects all of the red envelopes with his mouth, he will then dance in the parking lot waiting in hunger for more red envelopes. It is said that the longer he dances and is fed red envelopes, the more luck he will bring in the Lunar New Year. It’s such a delight to see the Dragon Dance every year and our James loves it!

#5 – Banh Tet (Vietnamese Sticky Rice Cake)

Lastly, this is my all-time favorite! I look forward to eating these homemade delicious Vietnamese sticky rice cakes. It can be either sweet or savory. It is a steamed cake made primarily from glutinous rice, which is rolled in a banana leaf into a thick, log-like cylindrical shape with a mung bean and pork filling. I absolutely love eating savory Banh Tet. I cut the cake in slices and either re-steam it or pan fry it slightly with pepper. My mom will ship it to me from California every year, just for me. I do have to say that it’s an acquired taste. I’m still waiting on my husband and son to take a bite of this. I remember sharing a slice of this cake with my 4th grade teacher and let’s just say she wasn’t too fond of it. The way I see it, more for me to eat!

I hope you enjoyed this blog post! May the year of the Rabbit bring you more luck, prosperity, health and hope!

Author: Jeannie Ju, DDS


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