A Beautiful Custom in Spring

A lesson about Tet and its valuable meanings.

“The first day is Father’s Tet, the second day is Mother’s Tet, the third day is Teacher’s Tet” is the idiom that is deeply embedded in the culture of Vietnamese people. It is not merely a saying like “remember the source when drinking the water,” but also a beautiful Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) custom that needs to be handed down and preserved.

Growing up, Vietnamese children remember hearing the phrase “A father’s deeds is as high as Thai Son Mountain. A mother’s love is as bountiful as the source stream.” They also remember “Every word you learn is your teacher’s work, so is half a word.” As natural as breathing, the tradition of “remembering the source of water” has penetrated the flesh and blood of the Vietnamese, becoming a cultural anchor throughout a thousand years of civilization. Every time spring is in the air, everyone remembers the phrase “The first day is Father’s Tet, the second day is Mother’s Tet, and the third day is Teacher’s Tet.”

For thousands of years Lunar New Year has been considered the most important holiday of Vietnamese people. This is not only when everyone rests after a hard working year, but also the time when family members gather and welcome a new year with joy. This is when people show their affection and care for their relatives, teachers and friends. The tradition has subconsciously become a part of many people’s lives so that no one can remember exactly when they started saying “The first day is Father’s Tet, the second day is Mother’s Tet, and the third day is Teacher’s Tet.” During the first three days of the New Year, this seems to be the schedule that everyone follows before taking time for personal intentions.

“Father” means not just one person, but also relatives in the paternal family. The phrase “The first day is Father’s Tet” means that the first day of the Lunar New Year is the time for children, spouses, brothers and sisters to gather at their paternal family’s place to burn incense for ancestors and pay respect to the paternal parents. On the second day of Tet, families visit the maternal side, which means they visit their mother’s house. For the women who married and live far away from home, this is a great time to visit family, talk to their parents and see siblings. On the first and second day, usually the elderly in the house – grandparents and parents – will stay at home and wait for their children to come around. Descendants often line up, from older to younger, in turn to wish their grandparents a happy new year, then grandparents and parents will give them lucky money in return with the hope of bringing fortune to their children at the beginning of the year. Normally, older people will give lucky money to their children, but today, children and grandchildren also give lucky money to their parents, wishing that they will be healthy during the new year. After solemn and warm rituals, the whole family will prepare a meal to eat and chat together. The Tet holiday meal is often very hearty, with many traditional Vietnamese dishes such as Bánh chưng (rice cake), boiled chicken, and fried spring rolls.

On the third day of the Lunar New Year, Vietnamese people, especially young people, often gather to visit their teachers. This “Teacher’s Tet” in the old days was similar to today’s November 20 (Vietnamese Teacher’s day). Parents are those who gave birth to and raised their children, but teachers have devoted themselves to teaching and guiding each young person. In the old days, even though one made it and became a high-ranked officer, on the Tet holiday, he or she always spent time visiting teachers and paying deference. This is not only an opportunity for students to visit and express their gratitude to the people who have taught them, but also the time to meet with old friends, revisit stories of past days, and wish each other good luck in the new year.

The phrase “the first day is Father’s Tet, the second day is Mother’s Tet, the third day is Teacher’s Tet” is not simply a schedule to remind people of the tasks to be done during the first three days of the Lunar New Year. It reminds us of a beautiful tradition preserved for centuries. It is in the tradition of “remember the source when drinking the water,” teaching us to be grateful and to always remember the merits of the most important people in our lives: father, mother and teachers. These are the people who gave birth to us, brought us up, gave us a fulfilling life, and taught us to be good and useful. This tradition has become a way of life for Vietnamese people. Whether they remember the idiom or not, Vietnamese people always follow the good values passed down by their ancestors.

Filial piety and respect for teachers are the national traits of a true Vietnamese. Even though the customs of Tet holiday have changed, Tet is only complete when the children come home, and when family members gather and share a meal.

“No matter where you work
Tet is near, let’s go home together.”

This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt

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