Now that the rings are on the fingers, it is time to plan and prepare for your very first Vietnamese New Year, otherwise known as Tết. This year, Tết falls on Saturday, January 28th, 2017. As newlyweds, you’ll at the very least tết your parents and grandparents before the first of the lunar calendar year; then inevitably prepare lucky red envelopes for an army of youngans for the day of. Just when you think you’ve recovered from the Christmas and New Year’s hangover, along creeps Tết. But Matron of Style has got you! Ong Xa and I are four years in deep and we kind of got it down! It is so important to us to hold on to our roots and keep our traditions alive. So here we go again with the opportunity to do so.
Đi tết Bo Me and Ong Ba Ngoai and / or Noi
Ok so what does it mean to Đi tết? It means as a married couple, you visit parents and grandparents before the first day of the lunar calendar with consumables. They’ll enjoy these delicacies leading up to the first of the Lunar New Year and beyond. Think of it as a really long pre-game to the first.
Start Planning Now
It takes just as much thought and planning as the Holiday season. Hence, this post as early as I could get it out!
Budgeting is Key
As a married couple we budgeted for Christmas, then follow up with Tết. Vietnamese New Year tends to fall late January or early February. Thank goodness the weeks in between allows you to recoup. Your bank account and sanity will thank you. Extend the tết-ing to close relatives, if budgeting allows. Personally, I stick to small list of both sets of parents, and all grandparents. It’s all based on relationship and what you are comfortable with.
Plan a day (or days) to visit parents and family. Take into account your work schedule. Not all couples work Monday -Friday with weekends off. You will need to coordinate your schedule with Ong or Ba Xa to visit everyone on your list. Family loves to see you both together, so if only one of you tết’s, they’ll no doubt ask where your other half is. For (Anh) Chi, it takes two full days to see everyone, but we divide it among two weekends so we have time to still adult. When we tết, we stay, hang out, catch up and that quality time is really special to our parents and Ong Ba. Try not to stack your shopping with your day(s) of Đi tết because, depending on how close you are to the first of the lunar new year, Vietnamese shops can get cray! Long lines and hours of waiting could ensue. If you can swing it, try tag teaming with your parents to help you out with Ong Ba Ngoai’s / Noi’s quà or gift. I’m sure they will be very supportive of you first timers.
What to Tết
It depends on preference, but the non-negotiable is that it should be a consumable. In others words, it must be something they’ll eat or drink. The time to do some detective work is now to know what your Parents & Ong Ba’s likes or needs. See below for both traditional and modern suggestions:
Traditional Vietnamese Delicacies
- Bánh chưng = Sticky Rise Cake with mung bean and pork belly in a cylinder shape
- Bánh tét = Sticky Rice Cake with mung bean and pork in a square shape
Are the above the same? Yes! Why the different names? Names are indicative of the shape. The shape is indicative of the region.
- Giò thủ = head cheese, a type of cold cut
- Giò lụa = steamed pork roll; considered a type of Vietnamese sausage
- Mứt = candied coconut
- Thịt đông = gelatined meat
- dưa chua = pickled mustard greens
- dưa món = pickled carrots & radishes
- xôi = sweet, sticky rice; all varieties
- chè = traditional sweet beverage, dessert soup or pudding
- trái cây = fruit
- hạt dưa = Egusi seed
Chat with Parents to help guide you to the right places to buy the above. Some tastes are particular and they’ll like a giò from place and not so much another. No lie, my mom waited at a giò shop somewhere in Little Saigon for friggin three hours for me because that was THE giò place to go! Same can go for places that make bánh tét or bánh chưng.
- Cooking Oil
- Gourmet coffee
- Pastries or Sweets (think 85 degrees, a Japanese or French bakery)
- Flowers (peach or apricot blossoms, Orchids).
Also, take their health into consideration. Parents or Ong Ba may drink nutritional supplements and having a supply gifted to them is greatly appreciated. A modern take can also make an impact if parents or Ong Ba are social (think Church groups) and have friends who will likely tết them something traditional. They may end up with a ton of bánh tét or bánh chưng they just can’t finish. If all else fails, cash is still appropriate.
Prepping Lucky Red Envelopes
Hit the bank early…I repeat, hit the bank EARLY
…I’m not talking about robbing the joint, but Tết is a very popular time of year for crisp, new bills! Most banks have caught on and will have a supply ready, but it goes fast! Even faster if you live in the Little Saigon Area. I lived in south Orange County—25 miles from the heart of Little Saigon, and was surprised that the local bank was ready to go! They even had $2’s! Avoid having to go to visit multiple bank locations to get what you need. Score on gratis red envelopes for being the bank’s customer. These go super fast too! So prepare to shop for red envelopes, if needed.
So what’s up with the $2 bill? It’s considered lucky because it’s uncommon; almost a unicorn denomination. Believe it or not, a bank may take special orders if it’s a special denomination like a $2 bill. They’ll call you when it arrives and its treated as a cash withdraw from your bank account when you come pick it up. Doesn’t hurt to ask your bank. Seriously, save yourself the hassle of hitting a bunch a bank locations just to get what you need.
Shopping for Red Envelopes
Tangent tidbit about me: I love stationary! LOVE! After our recent move (that’s a post for another time), I put myself on a stationary time-out after seeing all that I packed. But shopping for red envelopes is a perfect excuse to make an exception and get obsessive! What size envelope to buy? Do I care if bills are folded or stay flat? How does it feel in my hands? Is the paper weight heavy enough? Do I like a textured finish? I.e. embossed, foiled, velvet? How’s it smell? Is it sweet like a Sanrio gift bag? Or hot off the press from somewhere in China? Stop laughing! This is what seriously goes through my head!
If you’re not able to make it to Little Saigon or a Chinatown, browse Etsy or search online and the unlikely of merchants may pop up and save you a trip. *cough*cough* Daiso
Back to shopping for red envelopes: I have been buying my red envelopes for the last few years from Sanrio. Last year, 2016, they expanded their selection to include other characters.
They even released a limited edition (my fave words after collectible) [Chinese] New Year Hello Kitty plush decked in Year of the Monkey—my year—that I had to have. Sanrio South Coast only received two or three in their inventory last year and I scooped one up. Friggin’ excited to see what they’ll have this year for Year of the Rooster.
Who gets a red envelope?
This gets a little tricky. I believe anyone younger than us (as in Ong Xa and me) is eligible. We pay special attention though to nieces, nephews and godchildren. I’m close to my cousins so they all get a red envelope from us, regardless of being single or married. Ong Xa and I are also both the youngest sibling in our prospective immediate fams, so the older siblings get nada from us, but their kids benefit. Hehe see how that works? How much to give really depends on your financial circumstance and what you’re comfortable with. Goes back to the budgeting point made earlier. Still recovering from Christmas? Give a $2 dollar bill or multiply by four (now eight dollars) to double their luck!
You also have the option to increment them out ie $5 for younger kids, $10 for high school age, $20 for college. Again, generosity depends on circumstance. This time of year we give and receive luck! Heck, start your own tradition. If you go the increment route, be sure to buy multiple lucky red envelope designs to indicate denomination. Helps avoid fumbling around during the great Chúc Tết speech. haha
Prep the Wardrobe
Ladies, wear an áo dài! Fellas, wear an áo gam. Shop Little Saigon to buy one already made. Or go all out and have one made to measure! Decide soon because believe it or not, tailors can get just as busy as bakers. Shop early as it is a busy time of year for practically all of Little Saigon! People from near and far drive or fly to hit the Bolsa strip for this grand occasion. Not sure what to expect when shopping for an áo dài? See my blog posting here. If wearing an áo dài is not your jam, simply wear something red. Gold & sparkle never hurt nobody neither.
Get your Chúc Tết speech ready to receive red envelopes. Your effort for well wishes in Vietnamese will earn you brownie points…maybe even an extra red envelope! A “Chúc mừng năm mới” suffices too if you’re not Vietnamese. Other common phrases:
- Chúc năm mới làm ăn phát tài = Wishing you a new year of good fortune
- Sức khoẻ dồi dào = Abundant health
- Tiền vô như nước!! = Wealth; literal translation: Money come like water
- Chúc năm mới an khang thịnh vượng = Happiness and prosperity
- Gặp nhiều may mắn = Lots of luck
Also visit temples too if that is your usual M.O.
Keep the party going…
…by attending a Tết festival. Tết comes to life with food vendors, lion dancing, firecracker displays and more! A popular festival is produced by The Union of Vietnamese Student Associations (UVSA) at OC Fair & Events Center in Costa Mesa, CA. The 36th Annual Tet Festival in Orange County goes down Friday January 27th – Sunday January 29th, 2017. Click here for more info!
Thanks for sticking with me! See how there’s so much planning involved? Start early, be a detective, stuff lucky envelopes, distribute lucky envelope, receive lucky envelopes, eat, drink, gamble your luck with bầu cua cá cọp! If this is your first year as a married couple doing this, don’t be too hard on yourselves! It doesn’t have to be perfect. Make your first time experience your own! After four years, Ong Xa and I still get thrown an occasional curve ball, but in the end, our families love, love the effort!
Chúc mừng năm mới y’all! Happy Year of the Rooster!