Distinctive new years

Tet is celebrated in myriad ways around Vietnam because of the country’s rich ethnic diversity.

By Le Diem on January 15,2020 10:37 AM

Distinctive new years

PHOTOS THAI A

Vietnam’s 54 ethnic groups means that diverse cultures are found all around the country. This is especially evident as winter turns to spring. All celebrate the lunar new year but with varied traditions attached to their own unique features and cultivation culture, bringing colorful festivals and a great experience for those who wish to head out of the city at this special time of year.

Though the differences can at times be striking, there are also commonalities in the preparations for and celebrations of the new year. It’s a time to clean and decorate the house and home and, most importantly, worship and make offerings to the ancestors to express love and respect. It’s the biggest food indulgence of the year, with traditional dishes such as “banh chung”, “banh tet” and “banh day” (all traditional rice cakes) and a host of activities held in search of good health and luck.

H’MONG PEOPLE

About one million H’mong people live in northern mountainous Lao Cai, Son La, Lang Son, Lai Chau, and Ha Giang provinces, north-central Nghe An province, and the central highlands’ Gia Lai and Kon Tum provinces.

Those visiting the H’mong in the new year will recognize their houses from a distance, as they almost appear to blinking. As part of their special decorations, silver paper is cut into coin shapes and stuck both inside and outside of the house. These are regarded as money and the certainty of prosperity to come in the new year.

Among offerings placed on altars, H’mong traditional food includes three main dishes: meat, corn cakes, and corn wine, as corn is their major crop. In addition to the dearly departed, agricultural tools are also worshipped and presented offerings. The H’mong respect their tools as important in their daily lives and believe they also deserve to rest and receive gratitude as they prepare for the year to come.

The role of men is also strengthened this time by … entering into the kitchen on the first day of the new year. Cooking is regarded as a woman’s task by the H’mong but men take charge briefly and light a strong fire to signal warmth and prosperity for the family.

New year festivals are also a place for the H’mong to meet future husbands and wives. Young men and women attend spring markets bursting with food, dancing, and folk games to seek a prospective partner. A young woman receiving a pat on the behind wouldn’t be angry or offended but actually quite pleased, as this is how a man announces he thinks she is attractive and wants to meet her. She returns the pat as a “green light”.

They then do it to each other nine more times as an agreement for marriage, and at the next new year the man can start a fire with her for their new family.

Distinctive new years

DAO PEOPLE

Nearly 800,000 Dao people live in the northern mountainous provinces of Ha Giang, Tuyen Quang, Lao Cai, Yen Bai, Quang Ninh, Cao Bang, Bac Kan, Lai Chau, and Hoa Binh.

Worshipping is the most important ritual of the Dao as the new year falls. Different from other groups, which do it themselves, the Dao invite sorcerers into their homes for a solemn ceremony. Food offerings are prepared before the sorcerers arrive. In Dao culture, a pig’s head, a chicken, and “banh day” are the basic dishes, while others can be added depending on the family’s circumstances. After the offerings are placed on altars for ancestors and saints, the sorcerers arrive to worship and report to the other-world on important events for the family during the old year as well as ask for blessings for the new year.

To express more respect to the ancestors and saints, the Dao people, especially the Red Dao sub-group, also organize a dance festival during the new year festivities, where they pray for good health, prosperity, and peace.

This takes place on the first or second day of the new year, depending on the place. A team of young men and women, dressed in traditional colorful outfits, dance for 12 hours, from 7am to 7pm. Dozens of dances are gracefully performed. Accompanied by musical instruments, each dance represents some person, animal, or activity, etc., depicting different stories from the lives, culture, and beliefs of local people.

Together with the dances are singing, poetry readings, folk games, and, of course, dining. Like Christmas in the West, it is a great opportunity for families, friends, neighbors and the entire community to get together and spend quality time with each other.

THAI PEOPLE

Numbering some 1.6 million people, the Thai are found in the northern mountainous provinces of Lai Chau, Son La, Lao Cai, Yen Bai, Dien Bien, and Hoa Binh, and the north-central provinces of Thanh Hoa and Nghe An.

New Year’s Eve is the most important day for the Thai people, when they conduct a ceremony “calling the spirits”; one of the highlights of their traditions at this time. The Thai believe that the spirit is as important as the body and so should also be taken care of. Each part of the body has a spirit, and some parts can become lost as their “owner” goes away to work, study, travel, or for whatever reason. The new year is therefore a chance to call any “missing” spirits home to connect with their body so the person can feel complete and enjoy time with their family.

A sorcerer is also invited to these ceremonies to make the call, by taking a shirt from each member of the family and tying them all together and lighting a fire with a torch and then taking it outside to call upon the spirits to return home. He then ties a black thread to the hand of each person as a blessing. This will eventually break naturally, but if its wearer breaks it then some form of illness may await.

To also wish for good luck, all Thai people wash their hair in public on the same day, which is their first important festival to start off the new year. Everyone, young and old, men and women, go to a river together to wash their hair and wash away all the difficulties, bad luck, and sickness from the old year, so they can start the new year with an expectation of good things to come.

After washing their hair, they join in folk games and dances together before heading home to prepare for a worship ceremony for the ancestors. Traditional offerings include two types of “banh chung” - one black and one white - fish, and some barbequed meat, which everyone then enjoys together throughout a night with no sleep.

Distinctive new years

H’RE PEOPLE

Nearly 130,000 H’re people live in the south-central of provinces of Quang Ngai and Binh Dinh, and the central highlands’ province of Kon Tum.

Along with worshipping the ancestors, another ceremony is held for ... buffaloes at new year festivals. Buffaloes have long been considered important members of the family and valuable pieces of property. It’s believed they also have a soul and are protected by certain Gods, so there is a ceremony to express respect to those Gods, for a good crop.

On the second or the third day of the new year, an offering is placed in front of the family’s livestock, like buffalo and chickens, and fish, as well as “banh tet”, rice wine, rice, potatoes, vegetables, and so on, and a prayer made to the buffaloes’ protectors for good strength and offspring. Those who tend to buffaloes throughout the year are also appreciated at this time, receiving the best food and drink at the ceremony.

The H’re people also have another special ceremony, known as water worshipping. To them, water maintains the soul and property of households and villages. So they worship the Gods of Water before the arrival of the new year to express gratitude for their support in cultivation.

The ceremony is performed in rivers and streams. After making an offering of a chicken or a pig and wine to the Gods of Water, such as the God of Rain, the God of Rivers, the God of Thunder, and others, they say thanks and pray for abundant sources of water for good crops in the coming year. The ceremony is also believed to wash away any bad luck from the old year and bring good luck in the new.

Distinctive new years

LO LO PEOPLE

Over 4,500 Lo Lo people live in the northern mountainous provinces of Ha Giang, Lai Chau, and Cao Bang.

When the clock strikes midnight to start the first day of the new year, all Lo Lo people turn into ... thieves, following a tradition called “khu mi” in their own language. Everyone knows but police don’t arrest anyone. In the Lo Lo beliefs, if they can take something home right at this time they will receive luck and prosperity in the new year.

They must steal 12 of something, such as 12 tomatoes, as each symbolizes one month of the year. They must do it secretly and must not be discovered. If they are caught and have, for example, only stolen six particular items, this is a sign they must be very careful and not do something important in lunar 6th month June of the new year, as this may result in bad luck.

There are no rules but no one ever steals anything expensive like a motorbike or mobile phone - just small things like wood, dried corn, or vegetables. Then everyone is happy with something stolen and have great expectations for a good year.

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