As the Tet (lunar new year) holidays draws closer, almost everyone has a hectic schedule and excitement can be seen everywhere with lots of colourful decorations all around.
The period from the 23rd of lunar December to the final day of the lunar year is a great time for periodic markets to be held in numerous corners in cities, along national roads, and in mountainous and rural areas.
Hustle and bustle fills these markets, where people gather to buy and sell a host of different things. In the past, people often cited verses by poet Doan Van Cu about markets at Tet because he described real situations in a very poetic manner.
"… Baskets of bright oranges look as if they were so painted
Full baskets of sticky rice look like mountains of snow
A rooster has a red blade like a piece of blood
A buyer holds its legs up and sees if it is worth buying …"
This is the time for peach blossom growers in the north and apricot blossom growers in the central and southern regions to see if they made a profit or a loss after working hard and taking care of their ornamental plants and flowers during the year.
From time immemorial, every family has customarily bought flowers to decorate their homes at Tet. People may be interested in different flowers, but peach blossoms and apricot blossoms are still the most popular.
In old villages in Hanoi, like Nghi Tam, Nhat Tan and Phu Thuong, people walk around peach blossom orchards to enjoy the beauty and choose the most suitable peach blossoms. Such scenes make Hanoi a very different and special place. Also in blossom during the spring are other beautiful flowers like roses, calendula, violets, gladioli and narcissuses.
People can also find other things at these markets, like food, clothes and household appliances to prepare for the Tet holidays. Most notable are small lucky money envelopes, shiny metallic strings, lanterns, and colourful strings of flowers. Most are red because the colour symbolises good luck, happiness and prosperity.
People in Hanoi can easily find such things in Hang Ma Street, which is just like the Chinatown in HCMC. When in Hang Ma Street, not many people miss the chance to visit the antique shops along the three nearby streets of Hang Ruoi, Hang Ma and Hang Luoc. The special periodic market has been going on every year from the 23rd day of the lunar December to the end of the year.
In the past, people in Hanoi had a habit of selling old things in the house and buying new things before celebrating Tet. Over the years these sales became special periodic markets and a place for those interested in antiques to exchange stories or do business.
As at many other places, it can be extremely hard to tell which ones are real antiques and which ones are imitations, and Vietnamese products are placed beside European-style objects. The most interesting thing, though, is the atmosphere of nostalgia filling the air.
It can be easy to see wealthy people arriving in cars to try and find their favourite items or see old men pushing their bicycles around trying to find coins, which were popular more than a century ago.
Old oil lamps, bronze trays, pottery statuettes, blue enamel plates, war souvenirs, ornamental objects of precious stones, and silver or gold are all likely to be found at these special periodic markets. The periodic market in the silk village of Van Phuc in Ha Dong district is busier than most. Tens of thousands of old objects are on offer on an open ground in the village, attracting those interested in antiques and bringing excitement and happiness to families at Tet.
Even more poetic and realistic are periodic markets in mountainous areas. All over the northeastern and northwestern mountainous region are periodic markets where local people come to sell and buy the necessities of daily life.
Some stalls are green with different types of leaves, including banana leaves and phrynium leaves, while the stalls where rice is displayed are white, and much animation is found in the corner where cattle are bought and sold.
Each Vietnamese family traditionally prepares a tray of food to offer to Heaven and invite their ancestors to return to Earth to celebrate the Tet holidays with their descendants. This is why people want to buy fat chickens and other food as offerings.
As Tet nears, the markets become even busier. Customers in markets in mountainous areas can find a lot of floral clothes and pieces of silver jewellery. It is a great experience for visitors to go shopping at markets in mountainous areas and find pink-cheeked women shopping around in beautiful traditional floral outfits.
The music from electronics shops, the colours of the flowers and clothes and the excited faces of people all together bring about a sense of exhiliration and the whole experience can be quite mesmerising.
Time just flies. After only a few visits to the market people suddenly see that New Year’s Eve is upon them. This is the moment that puts an end to all shopping concerns, replaced by the happiness of being together.
Along with the all-pervasive pleasant smell of the traditional cake called bánh chưng, people can feel the spread of warm greetings and best wishes between family members and friends. A new year is always accompanied by high hopes for happiness and success for everyone. Vietnamese people have been happily celebrating Tet for thousands of years and they will surely do the same for thousands of years to come.