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Saigon: Viet-namese New Year – TET 2009 – (Part 2)

Giao Thua. As midnight approaches, all eyes maintain a close look on clocks and watches. The Giao Thua ritual occurs at that most sacred moment in time. At midnight on the last day of the year, every Viet-namese family whispers similar fervent prayers. Bells ring and drums beat in temples. The old year gives over its mandate to the New Year. The words Giao Thua (Giao means to give and Thua means to receive) mean a passing on or a receiving and handing down of life, and the recognition of that gift by the present generation. It marks the magical transition time from one year to another. Those who practice Buddhism will pray in the pagoda.

In the Gia Tien (family ancestor) ritual or calling of the ancestors, invitations are extended to the deceased relatives to visit for a few days in the world of the living family. They are lured home and kept happy until they leave. The head of the household lights incense and folds hands at heart level in the position of prayer. The prayer may proceed as follows: “In the year of the water buffalo. And the date of 2009. We make these offerings and invite all of our ancestors to join in eating Tet with us.”

The past generations are invited to share the family’s joys and concerns to enjoy a meal with the living, to catch up on the family news and to lavish riches and honors on their descendants.

“I pray to the Heavenly King, the Jade Emperor, to his assistants and to the Earth God and the guardian spirit and to any other spirits present. On behalf of the (insert family name) family, we offer you incense, gold and silver, fruit and flowers, alcohol and fixings for the betel quid. We are all here to make these offerings so that the next year will be free of disasters and harmful occurrences and that the family will prosper. Please bless us all, young and old, with happiness, prosperity and long life. (Here he might mention some events of the past year such as the birth of a child, someone’s new employment or the successful entrance of a child into a good school). Please forgive us any transgressions we may have unknowingly committed against you or others.”

Bowing motions, called Le, are performed at least three times and the ceremony ends when all have prostrated themselves (or in more modern families, folded hands and prayed) before the altar. After the “money for the dead” and other paper gifts are burnt in the courtyard, the family watches the ashes dance away on warm currents of air, a sign that the dead have received their gifts. The spiritual presence of the ancestors will be palpable during the days of Tet.

In recent times, a new tradition has evolved to celebrate the important eve of the new year. Those who are not at home praying at this momentous time may be socializing with friends. In the cities, there will be community fireworks displays that will draw the young from their homes into the square or park. Although firecrackers are now illegal in Viet-nam, some kind of loud noises will be made. It can be the banging of cans, the use of electronic popping firecrackers or human voices whooping it up. People will break off branches and twigs that contain newly sprouted leaves to bring a sense of freshness and vitality into their home. This follows a Buddhist tradition of bringing fresh new leaves and “fortune bearing buds” into the home from the pagoda.

Do you remember Viet-namese New Years Eve in Saigon?

What did you do?

How did you celebrate or bring in the Viet-namese New Year in Saigon?

What are your best memories of Viet-namese New Year in Saigon?

Tomorrow we’ll continue with First Morning or Head Day.

As always, you are welcome to leave your comments below.

Chuc Mung Nam Moi!   🙂

Bob

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