Decoration in Tet (Vietnamese Tet part 3)

At Tết every house is usually decorated by Hoa Mai – Ochna Integerrima (in the central and southern parts of Vietnam) or Hoa Đào – peach flower (in the northern part of Vietnam) or Hoa Ban (in mountain areas).

Why are peach blossoms so popular at Tet ?

Many villages in the suburbs of Hanoi specialize in growing peach trees. When Tet draws near, each household in the capital city makes a point of procuring at least a small branch of peach flowers. Petals are single or double according to the variety, and their colors range from a delicate pink to carmine red. Connoisseurs like double petals and tender rosy tones, but popular preference goes to more vivid tints.
Peach blossoms owe their popularity to reasons that vary according to individual age and taste. Most people like them because of the beauty of their slender petals, but some see a symbol of prosperity and good fortune in the vividness of their colors. The older generation believes in the power of peach blossoms to repel evil.
Scholars of classical Chinese culture call them "flowers of happiness," in remembrance of the legendary adventures of two young students of ancient times, Liu Huang and Ruan Zhao, who wandered along a river bordered with blossoming peach trees and, at the end, found themselves in a fairyland. Others see a symbol of faithfulness, recalling the brothers- in- arms Liu Bei. Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei, who swore fidelity to one another in a peach garden during the period of the. Three Kingdoms in ancient China. The three remained true to their oath until the end of their lives.
Why is the chrysanthemum considered noble?
The Vietnamese, as well as their Chinese neighbors, class the chrysanthemum among the "noble" plants because it can withstand cold weather and its leaves remain attached to the branches after they die.
The flowers are of varied and beautiful colors: white, yellow, red, and purple. The bach trung tram, (white pine needles) variety has white, elongated petals while those of the hoang long trao (yellow dragon claws) are yellow and curved. Popular preference goes to the dai doa variety, whose white or canary- yellow flowers are often as large as plates. Vietnamese rarely put chrysanthemums in vases, preferring to plant them in earth- filled post.
What does the narcissus signify?
The Sino- Vietnamese name of this plant is descriptive enough: "thy tien "means "water fairy". Every one of its parts- bulb, roots, leaves, and flowers- is endowed with particular grace, and its scent is at once subtle and penetrating.
The "water fairy" requires close and constant care. Only experts know how to choose bulbs and how to "trim" them according to variations in temperature to accelerate or slow the blooming and have flowers at a fixed date, most often on New Year’s Day itself.
In spring, narcissus competitions are organized in advance so that participants have time to "trim" their bulbs, which are presented to the organizing committee on the eve of the competition day.
The jury gives its decisions after a punctilious inspection. Prizes are the most beautiful, judged according to certain norms (blooms on all branches, whiteness of petals, etc). These rewards consist of "parallel sentences" or a few yards of red crepe, and, in the past, firecrackers. These rewards consist of "parallel sentences" or a few yards of red crepe, and, in the past, firecrackers. "Laureates" take home bulbs and prizes, put them ceremoniously on their ancestors’ altar and consider the event a sign of good luck and prosperity for the whole year.
How did the writer Nguyen Tuan value peach blossoms?
The famous Vietnamese essayist Nguyen Tuan (1910-1987) loved peach blossoms. One Tet he was stationed in Thanh Hoa Province while serving as a volunteer or the Viet Minh forces fighting against the French. His longing for peach blossoms became so strong that he walked for miles, searching for a peach tree.
Finally, he found a farmer who had a beautiful garden of peach blossoms. Nguyen Tuan chose the best peach tree and asked the owner to let him treat the tree so that the peach flowers would blossom on the Lunar New Year’s Day.
Nguyen Tuan carefully removed some bark near the base of the tree and covered it with dark cloth to reduce the bark’s exposure to light.
Some days later, Nguyen Tuan returned to fetch the peach blossoms. Before he left home, he had carefully measured the height of his vase. In the peach garden, he walked around the peach tree several times to choose the right branch, which he then cut. Once back home, the entire village came to admire his branch of peach blossoms.
Five fruits in Tet (Mam Ngu Qua)
Why is the plate of five fruits so important?
A plate filled with five of fruits sits on the ancestors’ altar in every Vietnamese home during the Lunar New Year. The fruits are colorful and meaningful. They make Tet more lively and sacred. In Asian mythology, the world is made of five elements: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. The plate of fruits on the family altar at Tet is one of fruits also represents the desire for good crops and prosperity.
The plate of fruits traditionally contains five to eight types: a bunch of bananas, a grapefruit, "Buddha’s- hand" fruit, a thanh yen lemon, oranges, tangerines, apples, or persimmons. Families choose only the best looking fruits, which are arranged in a pyramid.
This practice has changed with modern lifestyles. Other fruits such as sapodilla, watermelons, coconuts, and custard apples may be added to the plate. Some families even use flowers and small colored electric lights to decorate the plate.
The plate of fruits in northern Vietnam is usually smaller than the south. The three required fruits in the north are bananas, grapefruit, and tangerines (or oranges). The plate in southern Vietnam must have watermelons, custard apples, coconuts, papaya, and mangoes. The names of these fruits in Vietnam echo words signifying prayers for wealth.
The plate of fruits gives the family altar a cozy and colorful look. It helps to stress the importance of family traditions and family life.

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