Lunar New Year festivals enthusiastically celebrate the Year of the Rat


Photo by Hannah Larson

Vibrant hues of fiery red and deep gold welcome the Year of the Rat in style.

Story by Hannah Larson, Grizzly Den Editor

   The Year of the Rat is around the corner, shimmering in bright red and deep gold, the lucky colors of the new year. Celebrations have begun around the world, welcoming the Vietnamese New Year to the beat of the lion dance and the aroma of banh chung, a sticky rice cake. 

   “I love the fact that if I fail on my original New Year resolution, this gives me another year to try again,” Lisa Nguyen (12) said.

   On January 25, Tet, the Lunar New Year, celebrates the arrival of spring in the Vietnamese calendar. Traditions include cleaning one’s house and decorating it with colorful flowers and apricot blossoms to bring good fortune in the new year. It is customary to wear new clothes when visiting family and friends and give lucky money, encased in red envelopes, to loved ones. Interacting with relatives is at the heart of each new year, and it is traditional to open one’s home to family and visit ancestors’ graves to honor them. Tet is a time of joy and celebration, for it is believed that one’s behavior and actions on New Year’s Day will set a pattern for the following year.

   “In my family, we usually go to my grandma’s house in the early afternoon. The adults usually give the kids their red envelopes with lucky money as a way to say ‘Happy New Year!’ You’re supposed to give brand-new money, crisp money, so that it’s lucky,” Ms. Do said.

   The New Year’s dance is a central part of Tet, as it represents health and prosperity for the coming year. Skilled dancers don costumes, which look like a cross between a lion and a dragon, and execute a series of jumps and spins in a choreographed performance. A masked performer waves a fan and moves with the dancers, gyrating to the beat of drums, cymbals and gongs. After several minutes of complex twists and leaps, confetti explodes, showering the dancers and audience with bits of colored paper. 

   While many customs surrounding Tet are constant, others vary from region to region. Farmers in Vietnam cut kumquat trees into the shape of rats, crafting the green leaves and orange fruit into ears and paws. Fireworks and flower festivals are popular in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, as firecrackers usher out the old year and welcome the new. In Ho Chi Minh City, bouquets of red and yellow flowers fill the streets, symbolizing love, happiness and good fortune.

   “There’s a Vietnamese game that we only play at the New Year with a bat, shrimp, and two other animals. You roll two dice, and each face has the image of an animal, and you place your bets on each of the images and roll the die. If the die comes up with the same image as the one you placed your bets on, you win quarters or candy,” Ms. Do said.

   Markets are aglow with glittering gold ornaments and elegant paper lanterns, heralding the start of the New Year. Cranberry banners announce “chúc mừng năm mới,” wishing a Happy New Year to all who see them. Families gather around the table, cherishing the time spent in each other’s company. Most of all, the Year of the Rat offers a fresh start and the hope of blessings and goodwill in the new year.