• Lunar New Year activities are steeped in cultural beliefs about spirits, luck and fortune. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
As well as coming together to eat and share stories, thousands of Vietnamese families will be clearing their debts and putting the broom away come January 28, in a bid to secure good luck for the year ahead.
By
Thomas Cunningham

19 Jan 2017 - 9:35 AM  UPDATED 19 Jan 2017 - 9:55 AM

On Saturday 28 January, thousands of people nationwide will come together to watch great golden dragons dance about the streets, as celebratory fireworks light up the summer sky.

After all, this is Lunar New Year: an annual tradition; a festival of red and lights to hail in the New Year on various Asian calendars; and a momentous occasion of cultural significance that has grown to become a recognised part of Australian life.

Lunar New Year or ‘Tet’ is celebrated by several different Asian cultures, and is an important event for Vietnamese families throughout the country and specifically in Melbourne.

More than 66,000 residents in the Victorian capital are Vietnamese immigrants, according to ABS Statistics. The suburb of Richmond is also home to one of the largest Vietnamese communities in the area, and hosts one of the most popular Lunar New Year Festivals.

Lunar New Year activities are steeped in cultural beliefs about spirits, luck and fortune.

Ha Nguyen, a member of the Victoria Street Business Association is the festival’s coordinator. Ha tells SBS that in Vietnam, families will travel across the country to be together during Tet. In Australia however, these families are usually already together or close by, due to language and cultural needs, so New Year is a time to teach newer generations about their Vietnamese heritage, Ha adds.

“We try to reconnect with Vietnam and the culture so the kids can learn a few things about what their parents and grandparents have gone through,” Ha says.

He explains how the kitchen is the place many family members will bond during this period. It’s believed that, during Tet, the kitchen gods – known as ‘Ong Tao – will ascend to the heavens to talk with the Jade Emperor about each home’s affairs that year.

Andy Nguyen is a member of The Australian Vietnam Friendship Society, a not-for-profit that seeks to foster good relations between Australians and Vietnamese.

Andy says families will get together on New Year’s Eve and give offerings and pray to these gods to keep their family safe and get their blessings. Prayers are also recited to ask ancestors return to earth and join living relatives in the celebrations.

“We try to reconnect with Vietnam and the culture so the kids can learn a few things about what their parents and grandparents have gone through."

Superstitions, spirits and beliefs

Lunar New Year activities are steeped in cultural beliefs about spirits, luck and fortune.

Ha says many Vietnamese-Australian businesses and people will try to clear up all debts before the New Year, as owing money can bring bad fortune. Homes are also not swept for the first three days of the New Year, because it’s believed that a person could sweep out all their luck and success.

The prominence of Buddhism in Vietnam and modern health trends have meant some people believe it is lucky to be vegetarian on the day. Ha explains that some of his Vietnamese friends are vegetarian one day a week all year for this reason.

The traditional foods eaten during the festivities are ‘Banh Chung’, which is sticky rice packed inside bamboo leaves, and ‘Mut Tet’, which are candies only eaten during Tet that are thought to bring a year of sweetness to the eater.

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SBS Mandarin has run a social media activity on Weibo, asking Chinese Australians to post pictures of their Lunar New Year Eve dinner, which is considered as the most important meal of the year for people from Chinese communities around the world. And here are how they responded, with all these delicious, home-made and some fusion dishes, a sense of nostalgia and so many great wishes for the Year of the Sheep. Thank you for your participation and SBS wish you Happy Lunar New Year!

With the first visitor in the home also comes much superstition. It is thought that the person will bring all of their life’s luck or misfortune into the house they visit. It’s a belief, Andy says, that has led to some older Vietnamese people staying up until midnight just so they can walk out and back into their house, in order to be their own first “visitor”.

While many of these practices are not as prominent as they once were, Andy believes that Tet brings about a time when generations both young and old can still come together and focus on what life is all about. 

“It’s a celebration of families getting together, having a lot of food and just mucking around,” Andy says.  

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