TET: VIETNAM’S BIGGEST HOLIDAY

TET

Tet —the Vietnamese New Year— is an abbreviation for Tey Hhat , meaning the first day of spring. Officially a three day holiday but usually celebrated for a week, it symbolizes new beginnings, with various rituals added by different religions, and celebrates the New Year by welcoming back the spirit of the hearth. In Vietnam, Tet has traditionally been a time to pay debts, forgive others, improve oneself, and make friends out of adversaries. Traditionally, the first day was to be with family and pay respect to one's ancestors. The second day was in honor of teachers, and the third day was to visit friends. Many families save throughout the year for Tet, houses are cleaned, decorated, and even repainted. Large amounts of money were poured into the celebration to ensure that the new beginning was a positive one. Buddhists in rural areas erect bamboo poles and drape amulets from them to repel evil spirits.

The full name of Tet is Tet Nguyen Dan. It falls between January 20 and February 20 on the solar calendar. The holiday begins on the last day of the last lunar month and lasts through the first three days of the first lunar month. Tet is comparable to having Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's combined. Older Vietnamese tend to think of Tet in tradition terms, while many younger Vietnamese think of Tet as a time for food, friends and parties. Before Tet, vendors jack up their prices and sell things like apricot, peach and kumquat branches, bushes and trees for $30 or $40 or more. People are cheerful, happy and in a good mood. Grumpiness may be bring bad luck. Before and after the holiday the roads, buses an railways are packed with people. The holidays itself is relatively quiet.

Tet falls on a time when the old year is over and the New Year comes according to the Chinese lunar calendar. This is also the time when the cycle of the universe finishes: winter ends and spring, the season of birth of all living things, comes. Tet along with four-day Chinese New Year and four-day Korean festival Suhl all begin on the second new moon after the winter solstice—the 30th day of the twelfth lunar month of the previous year to the 3rd day of the first lunar month of the new year— and may fall anywhere between January 21 and February 19.

Tet is the biggest and the most sacred festival in Vietnam. It is celebrated by most of Vietnam’s 54 ethnic groups as well as ethnic Vietnamese. People wear nice clothes, or traditional costumes, perform rituals of ancestral worshipping and a rite to see Tao Quan (Kitchen God) off and wish each other best wishes for a prosperous New Year. Tet is an occasion for pilgrims and family reunions. It is a time when one pays respect to his/her ancestors and grandparents who have brought up him/her. It is an occasion when everyone stops thinking about unhappy things and says good things about each other.

Meaning and Importance of Tet

Tet is regarded as the annual awakening of nature and a time to usher in a new Japanese zodiac animal. 2013, for example, was the year of the Snake, and 2012 was the year of the dragon. Each year of the 12-year cycle has an animal name. While the Vietnamese celebrate TET, the Chinese in Thailand, Vietnam, China and elsewhere celebrate the new year with many festivities and ancient religious rites. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]

To many Vietnamese Tet is the opportunity to renew the communion of the dead with those of the future through the veneration offered by those presently living. It is a renewing of spirit and body, a settling of old accounts, financial and spiritual. Tet is the time when families want to be together much as do Americans at Christmas. The longtime Chinese occupation planted the belief that at this time the "God" or "Spirit" of the Hearth must go and render account of the family to the Heavenly Emperor in the Jade Palace. To make sure that the report will be sweet, some families place honey or other sweets on their paper Gods of the hearth or kitchen before they are burned and sent on their way. To be sure of a good report for the home, gifts of fruit, a new paper coat and a paper carp (sacred fish) for riding are added as inducements, while in the delta, paper animals for burning may be added. ++

Celebrations end on the evening of the third day when all ancestral souls who have returned to the family for the occasion, must depart for their world. It is then that artificial silver and gold paper money is burned by the family. This allows the departing "ghosts" to hire sampans to transport them across the river that divides "spirit heaven" from the world of the living. The Vietnamese Tet Nguyen Dan combines many of the secular features of the American Christmas holidays with religious features observed in All Souls' Day, etc., with animism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Hinduism; each contributing sometimes conflicting features and ideas, but all combined to make a valid holiday season for our Vietnamese allies. ++

When the "hearth spirits", or "gods" are absent to make an annual report to the Jade Emperor, the Vietnamese peasant wants protection from evil spirits, etc. As a consequence, Buddhism plays an important role during the three day Tet holiday period. The villagers feel that protection is gained by the special preparation of a long bamboo pole. The pole is stripped of all leaves but the very top ones and a red eight-sided paper, bearing the symbols of Buddha's Eightfold Path of righteousness, is then attached. This pole, which may also have some areca nuts and betel leaves tied to it for the good spirits, is planted in their yards. Sometimes small bells which tinkle in the breeze and frighten evil spirits away, or a small plaited bamboo square symbolizes barriers which they cannot overcome are used. A small bronze gong, which serves as an emblem of the "Lord Buddha" may also be found attached to these poles. ++

Welcoming in Tet at Midnight

At midnight on the eve of the festival millions, maybe even billions, of fireworks are set of all across the country. Fireworks are set off in five different locations around the city. Firecrakers are banned because they are regarded as wasteful and disruptive to road traffic. For a while only gongs and drums were allowed after firecrackers were banned in 1995. In Hanoi, on the evening before Tet starts, people gather for a big show with break dancers, acrobats and folk dancers and roller blade dancers in skimpy outfits.

In Dong Ky, a town that manufactures fireworks, near Hanoi, giant firecrackers are set off and children run through the confetti-like debris. Popular in Hanoi are strings of fireworks which consist of several small firecrackers interspersed with a big cherry bomb that go 'SNAP, SNAP, SNAP, KAAABBOOOM!' when set off.You can see why the Tet Offensive was such a surprise. Those early artillery rounds probably didn't sound that much different than the giant firecrackers. Launching an attack on Tet also was the equivalent of launching an attack in the US on Christmas. The fireworks continue into the morning of the first day. By then a sulfurous bluish haze hangs over the country. By night time things settle down as the Vietnamese relax in their houses with full bellies. Horoscopes as also read on this day and tributes are made to family ancestors. Another popular amusement is the pole climb where children try to a climb a pole in mass to try to get some money pinned at the top.

Tet Customs

There are various customs practiced during Tet such as ancestral worshipping, visiting a person’s house on the first day of the new year, wishing Tet wishes, giving lucky money to young children and old people, wishing longevity to the oldest people. On the 23rd day of the twelfth month by lunar calendar, there is a rite to see Tao Quan (Kitchen God) off. The rite to say goodbye to the old year is held on the 30th or 29th day (if that month has only 29 days) of the twelfth month by lunar calendar. The rite to welcome the New Year is held at midnight that day. The rite to see off ancestral souls to return to the other world is often held on the 3rd day of the first month by lunar calendar when the Tet holidays finish and everybody goes back to work. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]

Homes are decorated with trees and flowers; caged birds are set free; children set off strings of firecrackers to drive off bad spirits even though fireworks were banned in 1995; street vendors sell glow sticks, noisemakers and carved pineapple on a stick; people light incense and joss sticks at temples. Some Buddhist altars are situated outside in front of the house. After Tet, chicken feet are hung from the front of the house to ward off evil spirits. If the feet turn black it means a year of bad luck is ahead.

In the first hours of the new year, the household elder chooses an auspicious direction to set out for the local temple, where the family prays for a good year and good business. A twig with leaves is brought home. The word loc ("leaf" or "bud") is a homonym for good fortune. Many families sing songs to honor deceased relatives and everyone cries.

Sometimes at Tet the number of fires in the shopping and industrial areas have caused the remark "Someone is trying to get insurance to settle accounts". Firecrackers and other explosives have traditionally been set off to drive away evil or dangerous spirits. During the Vietnam War, however, these were strictly forbidden. One Celebration almost resulted in tragic deaths for many when illegal firecrackers were exploded near tense combat troops.

The first visitor of the new year is vitally important to Vietnamese as is the urgent necessity to avoid anything unpleasant or sick for fear that such will be repeated throughout the year. Because of long Chinese influence and Confucian teachings, many of the customs and practices are similar to those in Chinese culture: paying off all debts; visiting and cleaning up ancestral graves; and lighting incense, saying prayers and leaving flowers and food offerings at ancestor family altars. Traditional offerings left on family alters in southern Vietnam consist of coconuts, papaya, mango and custard apple. In the southern dialect the names of these four fruits forms a prayer for good business and good times in the coming year.

Buddhist Customs on Tet

Children are sometimes told the story of Buddha's clever victory over demon spirits during. These stories are repeated year by year and become a part of the heritage given to so many Vietnamese children that animism is quite evident in much of Vietnam. Briefly told, it seems that the land of Vietnam was being overrun by terrifying demons. The inhabitants were frightened, helpless, and always fleeing. But Buddha arrived in answer to their prayers to save them from their desperate situation. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]

Buddha sought to purchase some Vietnamese soil, but could buy only as much as could be covered by his cloak, for which he promised precious stones and many jewels. The demons, being quite greedy, agreed. Buddha then backed his demand for the departure of the demon spirits by throwing down his cloak which grew in size until it covered the land. He then turned the land over to the people. ++

Buddhists in rural areas erect bamboo poles and drape amulets from them to repel evil spirits. The raising of the simple bamboo poles about their homes on the 23rd day of the 12th month of each lunar year is in remembrance of Buddha's power to deliver from evil. While Buddha may have this power in the minds of many Vietnamese, Buddhists from some countries would find this completely unacceptable. ++

Tet Gifts

Tet is everyone's birthday. Everyone becomes a year older. People often buy new clothes and get a haircut and think little of spending a large portion of their income to look nice. The type and size of apricot and peach branches displayed at a person’s house is a reflection of the wealth and status of the homeowner.

Bosses and employees exchange gifts; and parents and grandparents present children with red envelopes with money in them and as a sign of good luck. The red envleopes are usually given before midnight on the night Tet begins.

Describing the red envelope ritual, Cindy Loose wrote in the Washington Post, "One at a time, the grandchildren and children of Pham Van Lac approach their elders, making speeches as they present gifts. The adults take turns handing out red and gold envelopes with money inside. The room is filled with laughter as the envelopes are distributed. Tony says he remembers being so excited as a child that he couldn’t sleep for days before Tet."

"I too am given a brightly decorated envelope. One man, related to the family stands before me and gives me a formal address before handing me his envelope. Although I don’t understand the words, they are so clearly heartfelt that tears come to my eyes. I later find out he’s given me the equivalent of $5, or 10 percent of his monthly pension."

Tet Rituals and Superstitions

The first day is usually spent with family members. This day is very auspicious and foreigners are often invited to bring good luck. The second day is for catching up with old friends. On the third families honor deceased relatives. Many Vietnamese visit fortunetellers during Tet.

Before Tet there the Le Tai Quan ritual—in which the spirit of the hearth is ushered off on a journey to the Jade Emperor to get him in a good mood—is performed. Later a sacrifice to deceased relatives is made. A New Year's tree (Giao Thua ) is constructed before Tet to ward off evil spirits. Flowers and trees are symbols of prosperity and life. In the north people bring blossoming peach tree blossoms and branches into the house and in south people favor yellow apricot blossoms.

Much of Tet revolves around increasing ones prospects for good fortune in the coming year. The first person to enter the house after the new years is considered the bearer of good luck or bad luck depending on the status and good-character of the person. Visit are often orchestrated with particularly esteemed people making visits to many houses. It is regarded a bad luck to begin the year with a dirty house and outstanding debts. The days and weeks before Tet are often spent paying off debts, cleaning, fixing up and painting the house, and buying new appliances.

No cooking is allowed and housework os forbidden during. People often eat cold food. Lights are often on and people make lots of noise to keep bad spirits out of the house. Some Vietnamese water their plants by spitting water on them.

Tet Food and Drink

Traditional Tet foods include bahn chung (rice and pork fat boiled in a banana leaf), mang (an aromatic dish made with boiled bamboo shoots, and fried pork marinated in fish sauce), cakes and sweetbreads made with dried fruit, chicken and other meat dishes, pickles, rice and vermicelli soup. Rice wine is the traditional Tet drink. In urban areas, may people these days drink whisky, beer and cognac.

Four dishes indispensable in the feast of Tet are giò, nem (spring roll), ninh (stew dishes) and moc. At this time, the feast for offering ancestors includes sticky rice, boiled chicken, Vietnamese rice wine, and other preferred foods by ancestors in the past. Gifts are given before guests leave the feast.

Even though traditional Tet dishes are sold already prepared at stores but people still like to take the time to make the stuff at home. One is not supposed throw out any leftovers until the fourth day of Tet. It would also be highly inauspicious to sweep the rubbish from the house as all the good luck you have been working hard at will disappear with it.

Recipe for Banh Chung

To make Banh Chung and banh Tet (Boiled rice and pork cakes): 1) Boiled rice and pork cakes are usually cooked 2-3 days before Tet. 2) Both can be kept for about two weeks in cool temperature. However, after this time they become hard and must be re-boiled. 3) Soak some green beans overnight in water to soften. Drain, rub and clean to remove the skin, and leave to dry. 4) Next, cook the beans in a steamer and grind. Form into balls the size of tennis balls. 5) Soak some glutinous rice overnight. Clean and rinse. Mix with a little salt. 6) Cut fresh pork meat (lean or fat, according to personal taste) into 2cm strips. Mix with salt, fish sauce and pepper, and leave for about one hour.[Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

7) Clean dong leaves (leaves from arrowroot) and place them over each other to form a cross. Place an amount of rice in the center of the leaves. 8) Shape into a square (the southern version is in a circle). Press a "ball" of green bean on top. Then, add 1-2 pieces of marinated pork, then more green bean, and finally rice. Press firmly into a compact square and wrap the leaves over to cover the cake completely. Tie with bamboo strings. 9) Place in a large pot of boiling water and boil overnight. Squeeze the moisture out by placing it in a colander with a heavy object on top. 10) To serve, untie and open the leaves. Invert on a plate and cut into pieces using the bamboo strings, not a knife. Serve cold. ~

Among the revolutionary generation bahn chung consumed with onion and sip of rice wine as a reminder of the hardships suffered in the old days. Another popular dish, "hardship soup," is made with a bitter gourd and eating it is believed to indicate that the coming year while have less hard times than the last. People also savor over meat because it was hard to get in the past. ~

Recipes for Tet Dishes

Canh mang (Dried bamboo shoot soup): 1) Soak dried bamboo shoots in water for 2-3 days to soften. Boil 2-3 times if necessary. Cut into 5cm strips. 2) Fry with pig trotters and salt. Add water, bring to boil and simmer until meat is tender. 3) Garnish with green onion. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Bong (Dried pig skin): 1) Soak dried pig skin (the skin should be yellow, which means it has been pre-treated) in water for one hour. 2( Drain and then add a cup of rice whisky and fresh ginger. Rub onto the skin (this will remove the smell). Cut into diamond-shaped pieces. 3) To make fresh chicken stock, add dried shrimps and dried huong (perfume) mushrooms, which have been pre-soaked in warm water, to 2-3 chicken carcasses. 4) Bring to boil and simmer. Remove the dried mushrooms. Cut carrot and kohlrabi into decorative shapes (flowers, leaves etc). 5) Boil the dried pork skin in the chicken stock for several minutes until tender. Add French/ string beans. To serve, mix all drained ingredients (place vegetables on top) and garnish with coriander. ~

Bo kho que (Beef with cinnamon): 1) Tie up beef muscle firmly with several strips of bamboo. Break cinnamon into small pieces, rub into beef. Sear. 2) Add fish sauce and salt, and cook over a low heat. Only cut beef when about to serve. The meat should be firm but not tough. ~

Hanh muoi (Pickled onions): You should make this dish about two weeks before Tet. Clean onions. Dissolve some salt and sugar in warm water. Add onions, cover and keep in a clean, dry place for two weeks. Mien (Vermicelli noodles): Cut mien into lengths and pre-soak for 10-15 minutes in water. Boil chicken innards (liver, heart, etc), salt and green onions in a fresh chicken stock. Mix with mien and serve. Moc (Pork soup): Buy raw minced pork. Add dried mushrooms, which have been soaked to be softened. Mound pork on the mushrooms and boil in chicken stock. ~

Ga ran or luoc (Fried or boiled chicken): Fried version: marinate raw chicken in salt, sugar, garlic, fish sauce and burnt sugar. Fry chicken and marinade in oil. Boiled version: served with julienne lemon grass. Ca chep kho rieng (Carp with galangal): Scale carp, cut into steaks and fry. Add finely sliced galangal, fish sauce, salt, burnt sugar and water (this makes the fish turn dark brown). Cook over a low heat until the fish is hard and little liquid remains. ~

Recipes for Tet Sweets and Deserts

Xoi gac (Steamed momordica glutinous rice): Soak glutinous rice in water overnight. Drain. Cut open the momordica (qua gac). Remove flesh and large black/red seeds. Mix this with a small cup of rice alcohol. Mix rice with salt and qua gac mixture. Steam in a rice steamer. During steaming, add some chicken fat and stir through. When steamed, add a little sugar and stir through with chopsticks. Mound onto a plate and decorate with the black seeds from the fruit. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Che kho (Soft green bean cake): Soak green beans in water overnight to soften. Rub and remove skin. Drain. Cook in boiling water until soft. Drain and grind into a wet powder. Mix with sugar in a pan over a medium heat. Keep stirring until a little drier and smoother. Place in a mound and invert onto a plate. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. To serve, cut into slices like a cake. ~

Mut (Preserved fruit): Prepare a week before Tet. The most important thing is to maintain the shape of the fruit. Use apple, potato, tomato, plum, ginger, mandarin, or gourd. Apple: Pierce skin lengthwise, but don’t cut too deep. Place in a bowl of cold water and lime. Soak overnight. Wash carefully and dry. Cover in red sugar. Stir very carefully in a dry pan over low heat until sugar melts and solidifies. Take off heat. Press down carefully on top of apple to make into shape evocative of a seashell. If using a kumquat, a traditional Tet fruit, use white sugar to keep the natural orange color of the fruit. You must also keep the stalk in to keep the shape. You must also carefully press juice out after piercing skin. ~

Tet Rice Cooking Competitions (Thi Thoi Com)

During Tet, a number of villages in northern and central Vietnam hold cooking contests. This may sound simple, but rules are strict and complex and the cooking often takes place in the wind and rain. Tu Trong Village, Thanh Hoa Province has a temple dedicated to the 11th century warrior Le Phung Hieu. During the temple's weeklong festival the first week of Tet, villagers engage in culinary competitions: cooking ordinary rice in water, steaming sticky rice and making rice cakes. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Contestants cook in the open air while in a bamboo boat floating on the village pond. Charcoal, the usual fuel, is prohibited. Instead, each competitor receives some dried sugar cane, which burns only with difficulty. The challenge increases if it is windy and raining. Each contestant must set her rice pot in exactly the right place to take advantage of the wind and avoid extinguishing the fire. ~

The competition begins precisely at dawn. Hundreds of boats are tied up along the pond bank since as many as 200 young women may participate. After a salvo of drumbeats, competitors step into their boats, bringing along cooking tripods, rice pots, some damp straw and fuel. They row to the center of the pond, make a fire and wash the rice. ~

A second salvo of drumbeats sounds, punctuated by three final beats, the competition starts. The cooking may be done in one pot after another or by using all pots al the same time. The tiny, light boat sways with the competitor's every movement, keeping the craft stable while cooking is like performing a circus act. The competitor who finishes first wins, but quality also counts. People from many villages watch from the pond bank, mothers who have trained their girls for months impatiently wait for the results of their efforts. Other women take advantage of the occasion to look for prospective daughters-in-law who are both good cooks and can also face difficulties with calmness. ~

Villagers in Chuong Village of Ha Tay Province organize similar competitions separately for boys and girls. Female participants must cook rice on the ground while simultaneously carrying a six-to seven-month-old baby from another family on her hip. She must console the infant when he or she cries. At the same time, she must prevent a toad from jumping out of a chalk circle drawn around her. The competition is all the more difficult because the spectators, especially children, take every opportunity to tease the baby. The contest for boys is no less rigorous. Each boy must stand ready with all the necessary items (rice, water, matches and firewood) on a light boat moored the pond bank. At a given signal he paddles with his hands to the opposite bank, where a row of pots is placed on tripods. He must stay in his unmoored boat while cooking the rice on the bank. The least loss of balance tosses him over into the water. ~

In Tich Son Village of Vinh Phuc Province, a cooking competition takes place on the morning of the fourth day after Tet. The finished rice must meet particular criteria of taste and consistency. Contestants use two pots. First they boil the rice in a copper pot over the fire. Once the water boils, they pour both the rice and water into an earthen pot and cook the rice over charcoal until done.

Tet Gambling

Mai Tran wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "Nervous and down to his last dollar, Wayne Nguyen shook the plastic bowl, then slammed it on a game board. Nguyen, and those around him hollering and waving their fists, believe that the three etched dice in the bowl can forecast their luck for the Year of the Rooster, which begins today. "Three little fishes! Three little fishes! Open up! Open up!" they chanted in Vietnamese. The dice spilled out. One had a deer, the other a chicken, and the third had the fish they had wished for. The crowd had luck on its side, but not Nguyen, who, as the dealer, was betting against the fish. So while the others collected their winnings, he pondered his fate. "I hope I'm not this unlucky the rest of the year," said Nguyen, who lost $10. [Source: Mai Tran, Los Angeles Times, February 9, 2005 :::]

"Nguyen, 28, are among thousands of Vietnamese gambling for luck — and money — as they observe the Lunar New Year. They huddle over the Bau Cua game board in homes or play Asian card games...believing that the luck they have during the first few days of the new year will follow them all year long. gambling is a big part of the celebration, and many put their hopes on Bau Cua, also known as gourd and crab, an ancient board game that is played only around the first week of the new year. :::

Among the Vietnamese community in Orange County, California, Tet gambling isn't relegated to the home. Casinos have seized on the opportunity. Some give active gamblers "lucky" money in red envelopes — red is seen as a lucky color, and giving money in red envelopes is a longtime tradition — add Asian dishes to menus and promote lavish new year programs to draw in crowds. :::

"About 70 percent of the players at his casino are Asians, one casiono owner said. They like to test their luck playing a card game called pan 9, he said. At Hollywood Park Casino in Los Angeles, players received the red envelopes stuffed with either 18 or 88 new "lucky" dollars, arriving from the mint in sequential order.To Chinese, 8 is a lucky number and the 88 is for them. Vietnamese believe 9 brings luck, and the 1 and 8 of 18, adding up to 9, are considered auspicious. "Players are always superstitious, but their superstition and belief in luck is even more so at this time of year," the owner of that said. :::

"At the Nguyens' home, about 40 relatives gathered, testing their fortune in Bau Cua with pennies and quarters after a three-hour feast. "You have to scream for the animal to show up," said Trang Vo, 33, as she put down a quarter and chanted for a gourd to appear. Her daughter, Tina Vo, 8, lost all 10 pennies. But by the end of the night, the adults had given their winnings to the children, hoping to hand down the good luck. "The winnings are very small," said John Nguyen's father, David Nguyen, 55, of Anaheim as he stood by the doorway and watched the children high-five and giggle. "But it's all about fun, teaching the kids Vietnamese customs and getting a glimpse of your lucky future." :::

Bau Cua

Bau Cua—also known as gourd and crab or ba`u cua cá cop ("squash-crab-fish-tiger")— is a Vietnamese gambling game using three dice. Often played around Tet (Vietnamese New Year), the game has been around for so long that its origins are obscure. According to legend, the game was invented in northern Vietnam by workers in rice paddies while they waited for the harvest season to start.The game is similar to roulette, but players put money on pictures of a gourd or animals — crab, deer, chicken, fish, shrimp — instead of numbers. And instead of a spinning wheel, the dealer rolls three dice. The player wins when that choice is rolled.

The six sides of the die, instead of showing one to six pips, have pictures of a fish, a prawn, a crab, a rooster, a calabash gourd, and a stag. Players place wagers on a board that has the six pictures, betting on which pictures will appear. If one die corresponds with a bet, the better receives the same amount as their bet. If two dice correspond with a bet, the better receives two times their money. If three dice correspond with a bet, the better receives three times their money. For instance, if you place $3 on fish, and the dealer rolls 2 fish and one stag, then you would get $6. Bau cua tom ca is similar to Hoo Hey How (Fish-Prawn-Crab) in China, the dice game Crown and Anchor played by British sailors, or chuck-a-luck played in America. Bau cua tom ca is often played at Tet (Vietnamese New Year). [Source: Wikipedia ]

Jagged Noodles Blog reported: "The traditional Vietnamese Tet game called Bau Cua Ca Cop, which, translated, means "Gourd Crab Fish Tiger," is a traditional gambling game that is beautiful in its simplicity. A board with six circles is placed on the table or floor. In each of the circle is one of the following images: gourd, crab, fish, rooster, shrimp, deer. The inventor of the game originally chose gourd, gourd, gourd, gourd, gourd, gourd, but results from focus groups found that people were winning too much: "And the dice say…gourd! Everybody wins." [Source: Jagged Noodles Blog |*|]

"The board is accompanied by three dice, whose faces are of those same six images. You place your money on board, the dealer shakes the dice in a bowl and releases them, and if your images come up, you rack up the reward, multiplied by how many dice show the image. For example, you bet five dollars on crab, and two crabs come up, you win ten dollars. You can bet on multiple images simultaneously. |*|

"On Tet, children would wake up, get their lucky money, and immediately go gamble with Bau Cua Ca Cop, which is usually set on the floor in front of someone’s house. Every few hundred feet, you’d see people, usually men, huddled over a game. Excited shouting and screaming would emanate from these huddles, including, but not limited to, "To cha may!" (damn your father!), "Chet roi; vo tao danh tao chet" (I’m dead; my wife is going to kill me dead), "Do mat dich!" (something about losing a duck), and "Bau? Thang khung nao ngu tu nhien bo bau vao tro choi nay!" (Gourd? What stupid idiot put gourd into this game!). |*|

"Even small children get into the game, betting tiny amounts. Tet is a time when everyone is equal, so kids are usually welcomed to play and can earn a lot of money if they are lucky. It is super adorable to see their faces light up when they make their first win and perhaps take the first step on the long and interesting road to gambling addiction. More serious games often last way into the night, and shameless men are known to completely blow their wages, and come home during Tet a disgrace to their family. This game may explain why there is such a high rate of gambling problems in the Vietnamese community." |*|

Tet Traffic Accidents

In 2010, Tet holiday accidents killed almost 300 people and injured 400 over seven days. Most of the crashes involved alcohol,

In February 2013, the Voice of Vietnam reported: "A National Traffic Safety Board preliminary report states more than 290 traffic accidents occurred during the first six days of the traditional Lunar New Year (Tet) holiday, leaving 234 dead and 284 others injured. The preliminary report showed five major accidents caused many deaths and serious injuries, including two incidents in the central coastal province of Khanh Hoa and one crash in the Central Highland province of Gia Lai Most accidents were attributed to reckless driving, driving in wrong lanes or disobeying other traffic regulations. Alcohol was also reported as a major contributing factor. [Source: VOV, February 18, 2013 ==]

"Seven accidents occurred in Hanoi during the six days of Tet, killing eight people and injuring five others. Eight others in Ho Chi Minh City killed six and injured two. Two incidents in Danang caused one fatality and one injury. Despite a sharp increase in traffic accidents last year, the northern province of Bac Ninh has seen out the first six days of Tet with no reported incidents. ==

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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