Published February 8, 2016 in Episode 40
Tết marks the beginning of the new lunar year and falls at the beginning of spring, so many Vietnamese believe it’s an auspicious time to set the tone for the rest of the year. Throughout the Tết celebration, you want to be on your best behavior, avoid arguments and tears at all costs.
Perhaps you've heard of some superstitions surrounding this favorite Vietnamese holiday as well. I called on Professor Nguyễn Hoàng Mai to help me understand some of Tết’s most popular superstitions.
Sweeping out your luck
Many people know that you're supposed to clean before the Lunar New Year, but what’s the back story? Professor Hoàng Mai explains that Vietnamese people don’t usually sweep their house during Tết because they worry that the luck will be swept out with the trash.
The superstition comes from a story that once upon a time there was a fairy who came down to help a family, but hid inside the trash. The family did not know about the fairy, so they swept him out and lost all their luck. Following this tale, it is advised to finish all your cleaning and sweeping prior to the New Year's Eve. Additionally, for the first three days of the New Year all trash has to be kept in the house and only to be discarded after the third day.
Welcoming a harbinger of luck
Paying attention to what leaves the house is just as important as observing who enters first. Every year, we bring my grandma into the house first on New Year’s Day. I know some people who leave the house before midnight and even do a full walk around their neighborhood with their family before re-entering. I asked Professor Hoàng Mai for the meaning of this “groundbreaking” ritual, we call xông nhà.
According to Professor Hoàng Mai, at the beginning of the New Year we usually have the oldest person or the luckiest person enter a home first, so they can bring good fortune to the family in the new year. This custom comes from the view that our elders are wise and of upstanding character. As the first person to enter the house they bring along peace and harmony to the family as well as the prospect of longevity that everyone hopes to achieve.
As for the people who are considered lucky, they are selected according to the compatibility of their astrology sign and that of the head of household’s. If their signs match, then we look at the person’s family life to see if they have a happy, harmonious family. In our culture, that’s a symbol for everything good we wish for in the new year.
So if you’re visiting someone on New Year’s Day, be sure to check and see if someone has already “broken ground” or xong nha at that house. Unless of course you consider yourself to be that wise and lucky harbinger.
Wearing red for good luck
Another superstition to keep in mind when visiting family and friends during Tết is that Vietnamese people prefer to wear red because it represents good luck. Avoid the color black, which represents bad luck or death. This came from the influence we got from Chinese culture in which red color signifies joy. That's why to avoid bad luck during Tết, you should wear red or vibrant colors and absolutely avoid the color white which Vietnamese people wear during mourning, or the color black, which represents bad luck.
Hopefully my conversation with Professor Nguyễn Hoàng Mai helps you understand a bit more about the meaning behind some of the most common Tết rituals.
Chúc Mừng Năm Mới! Happy New Year!