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BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Last Sunday (January 29), Vietnamese people all over the world celebrated Tet — the first day of their new year. The week-long holiday is a time for prayer and family reunions, and it usually combines bits of Buddhism, ancestor worship, and Daoism, the Chinese system for harmonizing with nature and observing life’s passages. Nguyen Ngoc Bich follows his family traditions in Springfield, Virginia.
NGUYEN NGOC BICH: Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, is by far the biggest festival during the year.
The Vietnamese are known to be what you call eclectics. We like to pick what we believe to be the best part of various traditions.
Many Vietnamese, even when they are not Buddhists, still feel themselves very close to many of the ideas of Buddhism, and that’s why one essential part of celebrating Tet is to go to the Buddhist temple to pray to Buddha. A lot of the womenfolk go for fortune reading. Kids go there looking forward to either the dragon or unicorn dance.
The Vietnamese also perform the unicorn dance, hoping that somehow the real unicorn will come to earth and bring peace, not only to our family but also to the whole world.
At the dot of midnight, between the old year and the new year, there you pray to the Jade Emperor, the Emperor of Heaven. And he is asked to come and witness the change between the little god that oversaw last year and the new god which is to come and oversee the new year.
Tet is a time when we ask the ancestor[s] to come back to give us their blessing. It’s believed the ancestors also have a life in another world. That’s why in Vietnam sometimes you burn offerings to the ancestors so that, hopefully, they can enjoy all these things, even money — to use it over there.
You have to prepare a whole meal so that the ancestors can partake of them, the way they would be sitting down with us at the table. The Vietnamese believe that people really do not die. And because of that, the dead are believed to have their presence around us. They are the ones to protect us, keep us from harm.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN (Praying): Thank you for helping us always.
That’s why the ancestors are very, very close to us. The Vietnamese believe that you can communicate with your ancestor up until the fifth generation before you. It’s because the Vietnamese like to simplify the math. So they wait for the New Year’s Day and make everyone one year older. And in order to mark this, you have to say wishes to the elders of the family, and the family reward you with the lucky money, as well as give you some advice about new year.
ABERNETHY: To Vietnamese and everyone celebrating Tet, Happy New Year. By the way, those wads of bills going up in flames were not real money.