February 2, 2019

Rare Photographs That Show How Vietnamese People Celebrated Lunar New Year in Hanoi in the 1920s

Nearly one hundred years ago, Tet Holiday or Vietnamese Lunar New Year evoked the same excitement and expectations it does today; except, things were very different.

Vietnamese people celebrate the Lunar New Year annually, which is based on a lunisolar calendar (calculating both the motions of Earth around the Sun and of the Moon around Earth). Tet is generally celebrated on the same day as Chinese New Year, except when the one-hour time difference between Vietnam and China results in new moon occurring on different days. It takes place from the first day of the first month of the Vietnamese calendar (around late January or early February) until at least the third day.

Many Vietnamese prepare for Tet by cooking special holiday food and cleaning the house. Many customs are practiced during Tet, such as visiting a person's house on the first day of the new year (xông nhà), ancestor worship, wishing New Year’s greetings, giving lucky money to children and elderly people, and opening a shop.

Tet is also an occasion for pilgrims and family reunions. They start forgetting about the troubles of the past year and hope for a better upcoming year. They consider Tet to be the first day of spring, and the festival is often called Hội xuân (spring festival).

Here’s an early 20th century Tet celebration in black and white.

People gather at the Dong Xuan Market in Hanoi the day before the Lunar New Year. It was the only “supermarket” around then.

On a Hanoi street, Tet paintings are on sale in 1929. Then, too, Chinese characters, parallel sentences, pictures of flowers, carps, dragons and other, more modern subjects were sold as wall hangings to invite luck into a house for the Lunar New Year.

A Hanoi family poses for a picture as part of Tet celebrations.

Young kids help out and watch as an ong do, a Vietnamese calligrapher, writes Chinese or Han characters on red paper to be used as a house decoration for Tet.

A woman sells dong (Phrynium) leaves to wrap banh chung, a traditional Vietnamese glutinous rice cake that is a Tet specialty, at Hanoi’s Dong Xuan Market in 1929.

An old man chooses a daffodil as a Tet decoration. Daffodils are believed to awaken one's hidden potential, including talent and creativity. They also represent rejuvenation, chivalry and generosity. However, they are not so prevalent as a Tet decoration as they once were.

A merchant sells paper offerings for Tet in Hanoi’s Dong Xuan Market in 1929. In Vietnam, paper offerings, which imitate common objects like money or clothes, are burned as offerings to ancestors during traditional celebrations, Tet in particular.

Children wrestle with each other as a Tet sport in Hanoi, 1929. Wrestling is another traditional Vietnamese game, which tests players’ strength, agility, stamina and quick-thinking, but this is no longer as popular.

People pick branches of peach blossoms, for long used in the north as the main Tet adornment for the house. Peach blossoms are believed to repel ghosts and demons, and symbolize youth, fertility and hope brought by spring. In the south, the flowers of choice for Tet is the Ochna integerrima, commonly known as the yellow Mai flower.

A Hanoi store sells firecrackers and sticks of incense for Tet in 1929. Firecrackers were burst during Tet to repel ghosts and demons, but they were banned by the Vietnamese government in 1995 because the production and explosions were causing too many accidents, deaths and injuries.

Two people fight, using long wooden poles as lances, as part of Tet celebrations in Hanoi, 1929. This sport, known as la lutte à la lance in French and roi truong in Vietnamese, was a traditional one engaged in during festivals in Vietnam. Combatants score points by hitting their opponents with wooden lances wrapped in fabric at one end, in various body parts. Any player who lets go of his lance automatically loses the match.

A man lights firecrackers in his family’s yard during Tet.

(Photos: manhhai/Flickr, via VnExpress)




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