Illawarra Vietnamese community set for Tet

TET'S FAMILY: Romina Vo, Shayla Vo and friends from the the Wollongong Vietnamese community preparing for the Lunar New Year performance. Picture: Georgia Matts
TET'S FAMILY: Romina Vo, Shayla Vo and friends from the the Wollongong Vietnamese community preparing for the Lunar New Year performance. Picture: Georgia Matts

Chuc Mung Nam Moi - Happy Lunar New Year, Vietnamese style.

And today that style is super-clean, as the houses of Vietnamese-Australians around the Illawarra will be spotless, having been cleaned  vigorously in preparation for the Tet festival.

Teresa Tran, the president of the Vietnamese Community in Wollongong, said there’s a good reason for this: if you’re welcoming the spirits of your family’s ancestors into your home, you want to make sure it’s very clean.

Australians have become more familiar with the Chinese New Year but the Vietnamese culture does it a little differently on what is the most important cultural event in the Viet calendar.

While Chinese celebrations are likely to be noisier and more public, the Vietnamese Tet festival takes place (at first) largely behind closed doors as families visit each other at home.

Next weekend (Saturday 24th) there is a public celebration at the Dapto Ribbonwood Centre, with dancing and music, free entry with food and drinks on sale from 7pm.

But today, the first day of the New Year, is a time for families to get together and welcome the Year of the Dog.

NEW START, CAUTIOUS YEAR: Nhi Do and friends from the Wollongong Vietnamese community preparing for the Tet festival. Picture: GEORGIA MATTS.

NEW START, CAUTIOUS YEAR: Nhi Do and friends from the Wollongong Vietnamese community preparing for the Tet festival. Picture: GEORGIA MATTS.

Ms Tran said the dog is gentle, energetic, and cautious – the motto for the year ahead.

“Even though they are pessimistic inside, they don’t show it outside,” she said. “They are intensively protective of their friends.”

Money will be given to children, relatives welcomed – and because it’s a Vietnamese celebration, food will of course feature heavily.

Tet is a time when certain less common traditional dishes are cooked specially for the occasion.

Prominent among them will be Banh chung (or Banh Tet), made from sticky rice, mung beans and pork belly steamed in banana leaves.

Thit heo kho, caramelised pork cooked in coconut juice, will also adorn the tables; tropical fruit too.

But no matter how good this sounds, don’t go turning up at someone’s house uninvited – that would break one of the traditional rules (or, some say, superstitions).

Ms Tran said this is not a day for wearing black (that’s for funerals) and there is to be no arguing with your family members. Don’t borrow any money on the first day, and make sure you don’t break any bowls or crockery – unless you want bad luck.

And now you’re ready to say: Chuc Mung Nam Moi