HUNG NGUYEN MANH 1
Nowadays, the term “Tết” has been considered by certain countries as a kind of extremely original “Holiday” of the Vietnamese nation, a great holiday somewhat different from the ones of other nations in the area (Japan, Korea…) and influenced by Chinese culture. However, many researchers tried to trace back to the source of this term which originates from “Lễ Tiết” of the Chinese. Thus, “Tet” is nothing less than a mispronunciation of the term “Tiết”. When developed, this explanation seems quite interesting such as “Tết nhứt” is also another mispronunciation of the 2 Sino-Vietnamese sounds “Tiết nhựt” (Meaning Tết or New Year Day), terms often used in the expression “Tết nhứt đến nơi” (Tết is close). A more remarkable expression is “ngày tư ngày tết” (common day and Tết day) in which the terms “tự” and “Tiết” originate from the two sino-Vietnamese words “Tiết tự”. The meaning of “ Tự” is the order of succession of year, season, day, month, thus, “tiết tự” means calculating the time with the said order of succession to establish various types of “Tết” 2
Nguyên đán (nguyên means beginning, đán means in the morning) means the morning of the first day of the lunar year. Nguyên đán is also called “Chính Đán” i.e. “Chính nguyệt chi đán” meaning the first morning in the first lunar month. Besides, people also use the term “Tam chiêu” meaning 3 mornings (first morning in the lunar year, first morning in the season, first morning in the lunar month).
Throughout the course of Chinese history, the “Tết Nguyên Đán” has been changed many times:
– Under the reigns of the Three Kings in the Hia dynasty, the month “Dần” (the tiger) was chosen as the first lunar month of the year to celebrate Tết (this is because in that era people liked the black colour)
– The Shang dynasty chose the month “Sửu” (buffalo) as the first lunar month.
– The Tch’ou dynasty chose the month “Tỵ” (the mouse as the first month) (as people in that era liked the red colour).
– In the Eastern Tch’ou era, Confucius adopted the Hia’s system so Tết was again changed into the month “Dần” (the tiger).
– The Ts’in dynasty again changed Tết into the month “Hợi” (the pig) which is the tenth month.
– The Han dynasty followed Confucions and again chose the month “Dần” (the tiger) i.e. the first lunar month.
From that time on, the “Tết Nguyên Đán” has become stabilized and the day and month are no longer changed.
The reason for people to have the aforesaid choices is that each dynasty had its own opinion, but, actually all such opinions originate from the category of thought that gives to time a particular significance ever since the creation of the world. The “Tý” (mouse) hour is the formation time, the “Sửu” (Buffalo) hour is the time the earth comes to life and the “Dần” (tiger) hour is the time Man is born.
1 Associate Professor HUNG NGUYEN MANH, Doctor of Phylosophy in History.
2 According to PHẠM ĐÌNH TÂN – Vietnamese Festival in Springtime – Tinh Việt Literature Almanac – Spring Mậu Tuất – Published in Saigon in 1958, p.55.
BAN TU THU
◊ Source: Vietnamese Lunar New Year – Major Festival – Asso. Prof. HUNG NGUYEN MANH, Doctor of Phylosophy in History.
◊ Bold text and sepia images has been set by Ban Tu Thu – thanhdiavietnamhoc.com