L’approche du Tet*

    There are several things to do during Tet in Saigon. It’s not a one-day holiday, it’s a season, similar to Christmas in form and Thanksgiving in spirit. The holiday is lunar-calendar based. It starts on the 23rd of the 12th month, the day to “cung dua ong Tao“, a ceremonious dinner to see off the Household God as he takes his annual trip to heaven. It ends on the 7th day of the 1st month of the new lunar year. In the first week, there are spring flower markets on Nguyen Hue Street and water melon markets in Dakao. Water melon used to be available during Tet only, and there used to be only one kind – the green outside, red inside kind. Now there are yellow, striped, even cubic watermelon! There’s the sound of the gongs and the drums of mua lan (lion dance) in the neighborhood. There are thousands of crimson red Chinese sausages packaged, displayed not so far from deep green banh chung and banh tet. Hmm… it just crossed my mind that the main colors of Tet are also red and green, like Christmas… There is orange from the kumquats, shiny gold from the newly polished copper censers, and yellow from the flowers. Chrysanthemums for small vases on the altars and mai for display in the living room or the garden. My mom used to say, when she took off the leaves of the mai tree (to make room for its new leaves and blossoms), she could feel Tet is coming in the air. For big families with the tradition of making their own banh chung banh tet, Tet comes when they sit around the huge pot of cooking banh, warmed by the fire, chatting the hours away. After giao thua (Tet’s eve), the second week of the holiday starts. It’s the first week of the new spring and the new lunar year. It’s time to go to the pagodas, to be nice with others, to relax and enjoy oneself. That’s why “thang gieng la thang an choi” (the 1st month is the month of fun).

    Do I have a month of fun to celebrate Tet now? Hehe, certainly not. I did have over a month of fun and total laziness for Christmas break, however, thanks to Texas A&M’s generosity. But school started last Tuesday; and this Monday, in all splendor of the first day of the new lunar year, the most important day of Tet, I will haul my backpack on the shoulder and go to class from 10 till 5:30. Good start. I will be hardworking and learn a lot the whole year. The Vietnamese living overseas have at most a Tet party on the weekend or the night before. A Vietnamese physics hermit spends giao thua alone with research and movies. But above all reasons Tet is the time to be with family. My family is here, so my Tet is here. 🙂

    *The blog title is inspired by Lê Phố’s painting under the same name.
    The painting is Fleurs by Lê Phố, 1960, oil on canvas. Since I couldn’t find a free image of L’approche du Tet online, I thought Fleurs would be an appropriate substitution.

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