By Jennifer Lam
The New Year is a time when everyone has an opportunity to unravel and reconstruct their lives. With a New Year, comes new responsibilities. In the United States, people often set goals to either break bad habits or create positive ones. New Year is widely celebrated around the world, and each country has its own special traditions. For my family, celebrating the New Year is quite different.
My parents are first generation Vietnamese immigrants. When they were in their mid-twenties, they moved here with their entire families. Therefore, my parents aren’t completely familiar with American holidays. However, celebrating the New Year is a tradition both cultures honor. New Year’s in Eastern Asia is based on the lunar calendar marking the first day of spring. It begins either in late January or early February. Through centuries of agrarian tradition, this was the one time of the year when farmers could rest from their work in the fields.
The Lunar New Year is thought to bring good fortune and determines a person’s luck throughout the future year. In Vietnam it’s called Têt, which is a shortened name for “thank goodness!” Têt is the most important national holiday in Vietnamese culture. Millions travel through the country for reunions on this holiday. Like the New Year’s celebrations in the United States, Têt celebrates the beginning of a fresh start.
The principle goal of Têt is to attract good fortune. People pay off debts early, houses are cleaned and many are in good spirits. The holiday lasts for three days. The first day is spent with immediate family, the second is for visiting friends and the third day for visiting temples. Before the actual holiday, Vietnamese will spend one or two weeks in preparation. Shopping districts are bustling with activity, homes are being decorated, and people are cooking a wide array of traditional Têt foods. Out on the streets, you can spot thousands of vibrant red- and yellow-themed decorations.
These colors are widely adorned at Têt because they’re believed to bring good fortune. One of Tết’s most important traditions is who the first person who enters a home on New Year’s Day is. It’s thought the first person who enters the household determines the luck of the entire family for the whole new year. It’s usually the head of the house or someone who’s considered successful who enters first. Typically, the head of the household would leave the house right after midnight and reenter a few minutes later just to ensure they’re the first to cross the threshold.
Although my family does celebrate Têt, we aren’t overly dedicated to the traditions. Normally, we’ll just visit a friend’s house and have a feast for the New Year. There will also be red envelopes of money given by the adults to young kids as a gesture of saying, “Happy New Year!”
On weekend mornings before my sister and I enter our parent’s shop, my mom is strict to ensure she’s the first to enter. We honor this ritual each weekend. It’s a bit ridiculous, but she does this to guarantee we’ll get customers for the day.
Everyone is different; individuality is fascinating. Yet, when it comes to terms of race and being a person of color in a predominantly white area, life can be a little uncomfortable at times. I’ve never felt ashamed of my own culture, nor was I ever pressured to be. In some places where population and diversity are limited, it’s easy to feel odd. I’m appreciative of the other students and teachers at LLCA. They are all accepting of who I am and are open to my background. They unbiasedly view me as an equal.
At the end of the day, we all share something in common. And what we all have is gratitude for our family and beloved ones. I believe the New Year’s holiday is a time when these feelings are heightened. On New Year’s, we prioritize time out of our busy schedules to spend it with our family and friends and share thanks together. On New Year’s, we can reflect on the events of the past year and prepare for a fresh new start.
Freshman Jennifer Lam
Lake Lure Classical Academy