Celebrating Lunar New Year: A Physician's Perspective
February 07, 2024
Lunar New Year is Feb. 10. We asked internal medicine physician Christine Ngoc-Han Nguyen, DO, to share what this special holiday means to her and her family.
Vietnamese people call their New Year celebration Tet, short for Tet Nguyen Dan, which marks the arrival of spring based on the lunisolar calendar. It is the most important Vietnamese holiday and an opportunity for auspicious beginnings, a time when families reunite, honor their ancestors, and observe traditions to bring luck, prosperity and health in the coming year. Before Tet, we sweep and clean our houses, trim our hair, and take out the trash to sweep away bad luck and misfortune from the past year and start the new year fresh. The first interactions of the new year set the scene for the year to come, so we avoid getting into petty arguments and steer clear of conflict! Each calendar year is assigned a zodiac animal in a repeating 12 year cycle, and each animal has five element groups based on astrology. This year is the year of the Wood Dragon, and those who are born this year may share traits of being charismatic, intelligent, confident, powerful, and are thought to be naturally lucky and gifted.
To bring luck to ourselves for the new year, we decorate the house with red and gold, visit close relatives, friends and teachers, make a trip to the temple to pray, and exchange well wishes, including distributing red envelopes called li xi to children and our parents/elders. We eat a holiday dish called Banh Tet (Southern Vietnamese) which is a round cake made of sticky rice, mung bean and pork wrapped in banana leaves. We also wear red for good luck, dress up in cultural ao dai, watch Lion dance performances called Mua Lan to usher in more good luck and drive away bad spirits. As a mom, I am so proud to share our beautiful culture in celebrating Tet with my toddler who loved seeing the Dragon that “flies like an airplane” amidst the Mua Lan!
I wish everyone a Happy New Year. Or, in Vietnamese, Chuc mung nam moi!