Starting Anew: Celebrating Tết


Hannah Michelle Bussa

A local woman, Tiffany, celebrating Tết with her family in Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Tiffany.

Friday, Feb. 12 marked the Lunar New Year. A local woman, Tiffany, explains the importance of the holiday.

“Though it is often known as Chinese New Year, many other Asian cultures celebrate Lunar New Year outside of China,” she said. “My family is Vietnamese, and we call it Tết. The lunar calendar counts the year by its moon cycles.”

The holiday celebrates the start of a new moon cycle.

“My family and culture leans into this energy of newness by decluttering the house, finishing up projects, closing up debts and returning ‘borrowed’ things from friends before starting the year with a clean reset,” she said. “To me, this year looked like finally finishing my laundry and putting up that floating shelf in the kitchen.”

The holiday also marks a time for families to gather. Businesses shut down and the week-long celebration is spent visiting family and friends. In Vietnam, the Tết holiday is the break between semesters, not Christmas.

Tiffany grew up in Vietnam and moved to the U.S. when she was 14. The holiday has looked and felt different for her since leaving her family.

“My family would spend this time preparing the house by deep cleaning, replacing anything that [was] old and tethered, decorating the house with blossoming trees of fruits or flowers,” she said. “We would use this time to reflect on aging, learning from our year and hoping for a good new year. It was always my favorite time of the year.”

Tiffany’s family has certain rituals that they do for the holiday.

“Besides the decluttering and resolving any standing tasks, we would also ‘wash the house,’” she said. “I remember my uncle taking buckets of water and essentially ‘flushing’ the energy and dust from the back of the house to the front doors. This was my favorite prep task, as it does shift the energy, and my sister and I would play slip and slide.”

Tiffany’s family would also go to the temple to make thanks and offerings.

“My mom always washed our sacred Buddha statues with grapefruit leaves,” she said. “We would ‘send’ our deceased loved ones gifts and money via burning rituals where we purchase paper models of said items, note their names in the back and burn them. The thought is that wherever their souls have ended up in the universe that if they needed, we still think of them and can provide.”

Once the new year has arrived, it is time to celebrate. Tiffany said food is the “love language” of her, her family and her culture.

“We always have to have food, dessert and hot tea – sometimes liquor for the adults – for guests when they visit,” she said. “The adults wish the littles luck by gifting them lucky money in decorative red envelopes [called lì xì].”

Most of the time, the adults give small amounts of money to symbolize newness, luck and wealth. Sometimes, however, adults want to shower the kids and gift large amounts of money.

The holiday can mean lots of time with family. Tiffany remembers spending lots of time with her cousins.

“We play dice games and lotto, and ‘gamble’ using dehydrated watermelon seeds as currency,” she said. “Being a crafty person though, my favorite activity was being in my room and making a paper wallet to hold my Lì Xì money and organizing the beautiful envelopes.”

The pandemic has made the celebrations smaller this year for safety.

“I usually am not able to go home because logistically I wouldn’t be able to make that happen,” Tiffany said. “But even people in Vietnam who go home every year – like how most of us do here in the U.S. for Thanksgiving or Christmas – were not able to this year. The country is on a lockdown due to a recent exposure and [the recent surge of 65 new cases in the country]. It has changed many people’s plans, and families are having a hard time.”

Though the pandemic and distance from her family has changed the holiday for Tiffany some, it is still dear to her heart.

“It can be for anybody to celebrate,” she said. “I love introducing new friends to the holiday and all the tied traditions, rituals and activities. It truly is refreshing to think about the year by the moon cycle and having a fresh reset to start anew.”