About the TET
Tet is the festival which epitomizes the identity of Vietnamese culture. Although the Lunar New Year is observed in all of East Asia influenced by Chinese civilization, each country celebrates it in a way peculiar to that country by making it conform to its psyche and historico-geographical conditions. Many rites, festivities and practices of Vietnamese TET are quite distant variants of the Chinese model, and are even original creations which hark back to myths and legends of the pre-Chinese period which prevailed in an authentically Viet culture of the Bronze Age (first millenium B.C.)
Symbols of TET
Mai and Peach Tree
While Peach tree is preferred in the North, Hoa Mai is more commonly used for this ceremony in the South because of the warm weather. Hoa Mai is a small, yellow flowering plant that is used for decoration during Tet with the meanings of prosperity and well-being for the family. The value of these flowers is determined by the number of petals - the more petals, the more expensive the flower.
Kumquat trees about two or three feet tall are carefully selected and prominently displayed during Tet. To carefully choose a kumquat bush, the buyer must pay attention to the symmetrical shape, to the leaves and to the color and shape of the fruit. The bushes have been precisely pruned to display ripe deep orange fruits with smooth clear thin skin shining like little suns or gold coins on the first day of the lunar new year. Other fruits must still be green to ripen later. This represents the wish that wealth will come to you now and in the future. The leaves must be thick and dark green with some light green sprouts. The fruits represent the grandparents, the flowers represent parents, the buds represent children and the light green leaves represent grandchildren. The tree thus symbolizes many generations. Guests will caress the light green leaves about to sprout and compliment the discerning host who chose so carefully.
The "Mam Ngu Qua"
The "five-fruit tray" on the ancestral altar during the Tet holiday symbolizes the admiration and gratitude of the Vietnamese to Heaven and Earth and their ancestors, and demonstrates their aspiration for a life of plenty. As one theory goes, the five fruits are symbolic of the five basic elements of oriental philosophy: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. Some people believe that the five fruits are symbols of the five fingers of a man's hand that is used to produce physical wealth for his own use and to make offerings to his ancestors. However, in a simpler way, the five fruits represent the quintessence that Heaven and Earth bless humans. This is one of the general perceptions of life of the Vietnamese, which is "When taking fruit, you should think of the grower". Today, the tray may contain five or more fruits, in the form of a pyramid like before or in an different shape. Regardless, it is still called the Mam Ngu Qua, the five-fruit tray.
It is a square cake, wrapped in banana leaves and tied with laces of flexible bamboo slivers. It is a very rich food for the interior contains a filling of bean paste to which may be added small bits of pork meat, both fat and lean. This filling, which is amply seasoned, is pressed between layers of glutinous rice. Its square shape is considered a symbol of the thankfulness of the Vietnamese people for the great abundance of the Earth, which has supplied them with nutritious food throughout the four seasons of the year.
Cau Doi (Parallels)
Composing, challenging and displaying parallels represents an elegant cultural activity of the Vietnamese. On the occasion of Tet, parallels are written on red paper and hung on both sides of the gate, the pillars or the ancestral altar. Each pair of parallels has an equal number of words with contrasting or corresponding meanings and lines of verses. They show a keen intelligence, perception of nature and social life, uphold morality and a yearning for the well-being of all people. The red is symbolic of auspicious and powerful vitality, according to popular belief. Mingling with the green of the banh chung, the pink of the peach blooms, the yellow of the hoa mai, and the red of the parallels is sure to make the Spring warmer and cozier.