Frequently Asked Questions about Vietnamese Culture: Vietnamese Lunar New Year

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Phan Thanh Xuân
Instructor: Trương Thị Kim Liên, M.A
Writing 5 ( XH 527)
September 26th, 2012.

Hữu, N. & Borton, L. Frequently asked questions about Vietnamese culture: Vietnamese Lunar New Year. Hà Nội: Thế Giới Publishers, 2003. 116 pp.
Culture is the aspect I’m especially interested in. And I find it amazing to read a cultural book in bilingual. It helps me to improve not only my knowledge, but also my new English vocabularies. Recently I have been impressed greatly by “Frequently asked questions about Vietnamese culture: Vietnamese Lunar New Year” - a book written by a cultural scholar Hữu Ngọc and an American writer Lady Borton. This book is from the first series of bilingual handbooks on Vietnamese Culture. These books are really suitable for Vietnamese studying English and for foreigners studying Vietnamese. Because I wish to explore my dear country’s culture in the view of another language, I chose this book to read.

Frequently asked questions about Vietnamese culture: Vietnamese Lunar New Year is in form of questions-and-answers, consists of 5 main parts: Background, The Vietnamese Zodiac, Legends, Rituals, Decorations and the glossary is also included at the end of the book. Each part gives us a list of questions related to Vietnamese Lunar New Year. All the answers will be revealed in a clear and understandable way for readers.

Although the Lunar New Year is observed throughout East Asia, each country celebrates Tết in its own way with its own national psyche and cultural conditions. The authors clarify that “Tết” is a word of Chinese origin and a phonetic transcriptiont of “Tiết” – a Sino-Vietnamese term, which means “the beginning of a meteorological period of the year” (15). In the first part, the authors aim at introducing the various definitions of Tết in Việt Nam. “For the Vietnamese people, Tết is like a combination of Christmas, Western New Year’s day, Easter, American Thanksgiving, and everyone’s birthday. It is a festival of communion, purity, renewal, and universal peace.”(15). The authors also say that every deed during the three days of Tết should be well-intentioned and finely realised, since “it symbolises and forecasts actions during the coming twelve months” (19). Tết is a festival of communion of the living with the dead, too. Relatives and friends pay homage to the spirits of the dead. Vietnamese attend the tombs of their kin carefully before the old year ends: they clear all weeds and replace the plantings on the tomb. An occasion for purification and renewal is another definition of Tết, which is mentioned by authors. I admire those poetic words written by the authors : “During this period of universal renewal and rejuvenation,Vietnamese feel the spring sap welling up within them; this has an effect similar to the purifying Fountain of Youth. This partaking of cosmic life has given rise to special customs” (20). In brief, Tết brings a message of confidence in humanity; it brings redemption, hope, and optimism.

The second part of this book fulfills readers’ curiousity about Vietnamese Zodiac. The calendar in Việt Nam’s ancient agricultural society was based on the regularly changing circulations of the moon. According to the authors, “even city dwellers and overseas Vietnamese, have a lunar calendar in their homes to consult for the dates of festivals and aupicious days” (23). The day of the New Year varies from year to year, because it is based on the lunar calendar. The book explain, “The equinoxes and solstices that mark the beginning of the European seasons are taken as the midpoint by the Asian calendar” (24), so each Vietnamese seasons begins six weeks earlier than its European counterpart. Each year is “sponsored” by one of the twelve animals of the Vietnames Zodiac: the Rat, the Ox (or the Buffalo), the Tiger, the Cat, the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Goat (or the Ram), the Monkey, the Cock, the Dog, and last of all, the Pig. The authors point out that there is one...
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