Out goes the Horse, in comes the Goat. On 19 February, many people around the world will be celebrating the Year of the Goat the start of the Lunar New Year (LNY).
The festival is celebrated throughout Southeast Asia. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, China and Vietnam mark the occasion with up to several days of public holidays. In Thailand, Cambodia and Japan, where it is not a public holiday, the LNY is still considered a major festival. Vietnam celebrates its own version, called Tet Nguyen Dan.
The festival celebrations last seven days. On the streets, expect to see LNY street markets, lion dance performances, spring bloom displays and prayers at Chinese temples. Major cities also now hold organised fireworks displays at midnight to mark the beginning of Tet.
Before the festival, it is common practice to perform a thorough spring cleaning to clear out any remaining bad luck from the preceding year, before holding a reunion dinner on the eve of LNY. All members of the family are expected to gather for this dinner.
Encouraging luck and prosperity in love, life and wealth for the coming year is a major theme among LNY customs. Essential foods served during this period include banh chung/banh tet which is made of mung beans (cooked until soft and sticky) and stuffed with meat or beans and spices, then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed over several hours.
Today it is not uncommon for Vietnamese people to invite non-Vietnamese friends for home visits, usually from the second day onwards.
If this is your first time celebrating the LNY, here are home etiquette tips to consider:
Wear red when visiting homes. Red is a lucky colour for Vietnamese, and is believed to scare away evil spirits and bad fortune. Other bright, vibrant colours like yellow, which represents gold, are also considered lucky.
Avoid wearing black or white to homes, as it is considered an unlucky colour. While many younger Vietnamese no longer mind, more traditional, older Vietnamese in their household may take exception.
Bringing a gift to your host’s house is a nice gesture. The more popular gifts are cookies, chocolates, fruit baskets, wine or liquor. Most supermarkets around the city sell ready-made gift hampers. If you have a Vietnamese business partner, take this opportunity to enhance the relationship.
Red envelopes filled with li xi, or lucky money, are given to the young and elderly for good luck. Non-Vietnamese guests are not expected to give them out. If you do, however, a red packet with some new notes for the children ‘to eat more and study well’ and to ‘stay healthy’ for the elderly will gain mutual respect and appreciation from your hosts.
Elizabeth Png is the retail and consumer business director at Hafele Vietnam. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org