Come December in the Lunar Calendar and you will find flowers literally everywhere in Vietnam. From gardens to doorsteps and inside homes, offices and shops, there will be beautiful yellow and orange blooms. Flowers play a huge role during Tet, which is the Vietnamese Lunar New Year.
Tet is the most important celebration for the Vietnamese. It is a celebration of the arrival of the New Year based on the Lunar Calendar, with the first day of the year falling in January or February in the Gregorian calendar. This is also the longest holiday for the locals and may last up to seven days. The Tet days of the past and following years are listed below:
During Tet, the Vietnamese world slows down. People travel back long distances to visit their families in countryside provinces. The city of Ho Chi Minh virtually empties itself, and shops close down — it’s sort of post-apocalyptic.
Tet activities can last a week, sometimes even more. Preparations can begin well before Tet as well, and many traditional rituals will be practiced. Ancestors are worshiped, temples get crowded, special food are prepared, debts paid, conflicts resolved, houses cleaned down to the utensils, etc. Flowers, too, are a big part of it.
Flower villages and gardens nationwide will be full of colourful blossoms in preparation for the holiday, starting from early December of the Lunar Calendar. Many kinds of flowers will be found everywhere, mostly those that are yellow or red as these colours are believed to bring good luck. Lines and lines of potted sunflowers, cockscomb flowers, daisies, apricot blossoms, marigold, orchid, chrysanthemums, etc., span large fields. In the south, Sa Dec (Mekong Delta), Da Lat and Go Vap district in Ho Chi Minh City are the three largest suppliers in the region.
Traders and families visit these gardens in droves, and buy pots by the dozens, for retail or for home decoration. Certain plants are essential for the festive spirit in Tet, just like a Christmas tree is for Christmas: peach flower, marumi kumquat and ochna integerrima (Vietnamese mickey-mouse plant). The first two are familiar in the north, while in the south the latter is more preferred for Tet holidays. The climate condition in which these plants grow is one of the main reasons for the preferences, as the first two can grow well in cold weather, whereas the Vietnamese mickey-mouse plant thrives in the tropical lands of the south. The northerners also prefer the peach and kumquat trees because the colours show love, and the abundant kumquat trees are symbols of wealth and happiness.
The south prefers the Vietnamese mickey-mouse plant as the golden yellow colour of the flower symbolises noble roots of the Vietnamese. The high rate of blossom of the flower also symbolises wealth and the passionate love shared among the people.
These plants are kept at the entrances to homes, at ancestral altars, and as decoration inside the house. Some branches are even kept until the end of lunar January. Other flowers include chrysanthemums, marigold, Mao Ga flower, paperwhite flower, and lavender, to name a few.
It’s certainly a unique experience, visiting these extremely photogenic gardens and flower markets. You will get to watch farmers tend to these flowers with love and care, hoping that whoever buys them will have a wonderful year ahead. You will see people carrying these potted trees on their motorbikes and at times it will look as if the tree is doing the driving with arms and legs sticking out of it.
It’s also a special experience watching buyers and sellers interact with smiles and kindness. The New Year is all about starting fresh, leaving the troubles and frustrations of the old year behind. Make sure you buy some yourself as a gift to your new Vietnamese friends. You will make their day – and their year.