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Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, A Lesson Plan for Grades 4 - 6

By Tracy Ward

Enjoy Tet, Vietnamese New Year, with your child's school with this detailed lesson plan.

Background on Tet, Vietnamese New Year:

Vietnam is a country in the Eastern Hemisphere that was influenced by China for many years. Therefore, the Chinese New Year and Tet, the Vietnamese New Year have many similarities. Tet is the abbreviation of Tet Nguyen Dan which means the first morning of the first day of the new period. Tet marks the beginning of a new year on the lunar calendar, and the beginning of Spring. Vietnamese are constantly aware of the phases of the moon. All events are planned by the lunar calendar. The New Year begins on the first night of the first moon after the sun enters Aquarius. This is sometime between January 21 and February 19 on the solar calendar.

Tet is a huge celebration lasting three days. Families save money, store food, and plan far in advance for Tet, major holiday in Vietnam. The Vietnamese take extreme care to start the New Year out right. They buy new clothes, paint and clean their homes, cook three days worth of food, pay off all debts and make amends to rid themselves of all bad feelings. Cleaning is frowned on during Tet because one would not want to sweep out any good luck. Digging and drawing water is also not allowed so the ground and water can enjoy the holiday.

The marketplace is very busy the week before Tet, as people buy food, trinkets, firecrackers, flowers, and other items in anticipation of the holiday. At four o'clock in the afternoon on Tet eve all the markets close down so the people can go home and prepare for midnight when Tet begins. Before 1995 firecrackers would explode scaring off all evil spirits and welcoming the New Year. In 1995, because of the huge waste of money and the injury rate, (71 people killed in 1994), the government banned the use of firecrackers resulting in a very quiet Tet.

The atmosphere is very festive. Incense is burned in the homes. The color Red, symbolizing good luck and happiness is seen everywhere. Games of gambling are in the streets, homes and in cars. If a gambler wins then he is said to have good luck gambling in the new year. If a gambler loses, he is said to have good luck in other affairs. There are dragon dances at night. Food is plentiful, homes are decorated, parks are full of crowds of people dressed in their best new clothes, and for three days the people have an ultimate celebration.

Tet is a time for visits from family and friends. The first visitor to a home is very important. If the first visitor is rich, prestigious, or happy then the family will have good fortune that year. Usually this visitor is a relative, but sometimes the family will invite a special guest that they feel will bring them good luck. The first day of Tet is reserved for visiting family and relatives. The second day is set aside for special guests and close friends to visit, and the third day is for teachers and business associates to make a visit. Negative talk, and arguments are taboo. Visitors end their visit with a farewell wish for the family such as, "I wish that money will flow into your house like water, and out like a turtle."

The Vietnamese believe that their deceased ancestors will visit the family for the holiday. Alters are decorated in the homes with incense, flowers, and photographs of deceased relatives. A tray full of fruit, coins, and a tall vase of blossoms are placed in front of the alter symbolizing good luck and prosperity. The third day is also a day to visit the graves of deceased relatives. The graves are decorated with incense, flowers, and candles. Many Buddhists go to their favorite Pagoda to pray for a good year. The Catholics go to a pre-midnight mass.

Not only is Tet the beginning of a New Year, it is also everyone's birthday. The Vietnamese do not know or acknowledge the exact day they were born. A baby turns one on Tet no matter when he/she was born that year. Children say they were born in the year of the symbol of the lunar calendar for that year. On the first morning of Tet, adults congratulate children on becoming a year older by presenting them with red envelopes that contain "Lucky Money," or li xi. These envelopes are given to the children by parents, siblings, relatives and close friends.

Families choose a Tet tree, or tac, which is a cone shaped fruit tree with miniature oranges just ripening. The more fruit on the tree, the luckier the family. Greeting cards and good luck symbols are hung from the Tet trees. Each family also has a branch of the Mai tree in their homes, a symbol of spring, which bear lucky little yellow flowers.

Food plays a major role in the Tet celebration. Tet is a time of excess, one does not enjoy Tet, one "eats" Tet. The first day a feast of boiled male virgin chicken, sticky rice, a special soup made with clear vermicelli and bamboo shoots, boiled pork, and 3 or 5 duck eggs is offered to ancestors who have returned to their homes. Sticky rice and salt are also offered in the streets to any hungry ghosts who might be wandering in the neighborhood. A traditional food is Earth cake, a square cake made with rice beans and pork. When a watermelon is cut they believe that the redder the watermelon the more luck for the family. Several different desserts and dishes are made with coconut. On the third day another feast of virgin chicken is served to say farewell to ancestors returning to their ethereal abodes.

In the United States large populations of Vietnamese celebrate Tet. In Orange County, California, Vietnamese children do not attend school that day. Ladies wear red and yellow, the colors of the Vietnamese flag, and the men wear all black. They go to church, eat earth cake, and have games, carnival rides, food booths and contests that are set up at a local college. The red envelopes are passed with "lucky money" in it. In the evening red firecrackers explode and dragon dances begin.


Tet Lesson Plan for Grade Level: 4-6

Objectives:

.Students will identify the similarities and differences between traditions in the Vietnamese New Year, TET, with the traditions of several holidays celebrated in America.

.Students will name the symbol of the lunar year they were born in and compare the description of that year with how they perceive themselves.

.Students will use knowledge of similes to create a wish in a greeting card to hang on the tac tree.

.Using the ban on fireworks in TET by the Vietnamese government in 1995 to start the students thinking, students will debate the issue of banning fireworks on the 4th of July.

.Students will plan a class party reflecting some of the traditions they have learned about in this unit on TET.

Time Allotment: Approximately 5 class periods


Resources Needed:

  • world map
  • 4 or more large sheets of paper for carousel brainstorming
  • Comparison worksheets for mini-lecture (in the appendix) make an overhead transparency of this worksheet
  • Menu from a Chinese restaurant with the symbols and descriptions of the lunar calendar. One for each student would be nice.
  • Letter to the parents (in the appendix) if you use grandparent or special person display for the TET party.
  • Items for a TET celebration in your room will be varied depending on what your classroom wants to include.

Procedures:

Day 1

A. Brainstorm. Ask the students to think of all the holidays they celebrate in America. Make a list of these on the board. Show the students that in America we celebrate many holidays including TET. In Vietnam the major holiday is called TET. TET is the Vietnamese New Year.

B. Carousel Brainstorming: Tape four or more large white sheets of paper around the room. Write two different holidays from activity A. on each sheet. Every holiday has traditions. We are going to see how many traditions you can think of connected to these holidays, and if you know the reason why these traditions are done.

Divide the class into as many groups as there are papers hung in the room. Give each group a different colored marker so the teacher can assess if each group has contributed in some way on each sheet of paper. Give each group 30 seconds- 1 minute to write any traditions connected to the holidays on the paper, or why these traditions are done. Rotate, until all groups have been to every station.


Day 2

C. Mini-lecture charting exercise:

Present the background information on TET. Show the students where Vietnam is on the world map. Tell the students that you will share some information about TET. Whenever the student hears a tradition similar to an Americantradition they should raise their hand and state the similarity. Teacher leads a discussion about the similarity in that tradition.

Model how to fill out the chart on the overhead and have students fill in their charts along with the teacher. (Make a chart with the headings: (American Holiday--Tradition--Tet Tradition)

Even though Vietnam is far away from America, we still have commonalties.

Some similarities may include:

New clothes- Easter

Firecrackers- 4th of July

Graves decorated- Memorial Day

Tree- Christmas

Ornaments- Christmas

Ghosts in Street- Halloween

Midnight noise- New Years

Parade- 4th of July

Feast- Thanksgiving


Day 3

D. Four Corners: In 1995 the Vietnamese Government banned firecrackers from the TET celebration. The government felt it was a huge waste of money and 71 people were killed from firecrackers in 1994. Every 4th of July people are hurt or property is damaged from fireworks.

Place a statement in each corner of the room. Let students decide which statement they most agree with and tell them to stand in that corner. All the students in each corner will discuss the reasons why they feel this way. One person in each group will be the spokesperson for his\her group to defend their belief.

Statements you could use:

1. Fireworks should not be sold to the public. Only big ones under fire fighter supervision should be allowed.

2. Fireworks should be sold to anyone.

3. Fireworks should only be sold to people 12 years and older.

4. Fireworks should be sold to anyone, but only allowed to be lit on the 4th of July.

5. (You may want a fifth area, even though it may remain vacant, the vacancy will make a statement) Fireworks should be banned from the 4th of July.

E. Compare-Contrast paper:

One difference between Vietnam and America is the calendar system we use. Explain the solar calendar vs. the lunar calendar. (see appendix). Children in Vietnam all have the same birthday. Everyone's birthday is on TET. (Lead a discussion on how the students feel about having their own birthday, or do they think it would be fun to have everyone's birthday on the same day.)

Hand out Menus with the 12 symbols and meanings for the lunar calendar years. Let children find their symbol. Have the students write a paper comparing and contrasting the description with how they perceive themselves.


Day 4

F.Language Art project:Discuss similes. Have the students write a farewell wish to their family as though they were the first visitor to their family's house on TET. It must include a simile. An example : "I wish that money will flow into your house like water, and out like a turtle."

Let students decorate cards and write the farewell wish inside the card.

G.Plan a TET influenced party.>

Ideas:

1. Everyone wear something red, yellow, or black

2. Play (safe gambling) UNO card tournaments

3. Make a large orange tree on the bulletin board to hang farewell wish cards on. Or get a fake tree to hang them on.

4. Make arrangements for parents to write a message about the real day the student was born and how they felt.

5. Buy chocolate coins to represent "lucky money". Put the coins in a red envelope along with the message from the parents about the child's birth. Give these to the students at the party.

6. If possible cut open a watermelon. Have chicken meat, coconut cookies, or other Vietnamese foods.

7. Have students bring pictures or drawings of their grandparents or other people special to them to display with a tray of fruit, coins, and a tall vase of blossoms.


Day 5

H. Culminating Activity: Enjoy the Tet celebration


Assessment:

Similarity charts need to be completed.

Comparison paper will be assessed.

Simile greeting card will be assessed.

Participation in debate will be assessed.

Participation in planning the Tet celebration will be assessed


Appendix

(send letter home a couple of days before the celebration)

Dear Parents,

We are discussing TET, the Vietnamese New Year in our Social Studies unit next week. On Friday, we will culminate this unit by having a TET celebration. One of the traditions is to honor deceased relatives by displaying their pictures by a decorated alter. Students will be asking to bring pictures of their grandparents to school. The pictures will be sent home with the students on Friday. Drawings of special people in the child's life can be used also. Thank-you for your assistance.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Ward


Information on solar and lunar calendar.

It is a tradition in the Western world to associate each individual's astrological and spiritual characteristics with the month during which they were born. Born in October, you're a Libra, dedicated to keeping the universe in a working balance, yet hard-pressed to make a firm decision. Born under the sign of Taurus, you acquire one of the characteristics of the Bull: pride. The other astrological signs on the solar chart all carry with them certain unique characteristics which are embraced by those falling under them.

In the Chinese tradition, however, astrology does not run quite the same course. Legend has it that the Jade Emperor, after having organized and conducted a race between all of nature's animals, selected the first twelve winners in the order in which they finished, and created a lunar calendar based on the twelve finalists. Unlike the solar calendar, which repeats the same pattern year after year, the Chinese lunar calendar changes every year, with each year embodying one of the twelve animals. The years alternate in a twelve-year pattern, making the number 12 the central theme in its organization. People born in that year will become that animal, taking on its characteristics and identifying with it for their entire lives.

(from the Asian Marketplace, research Asia homepage)

References:

Tran, K. L. (1992). Tet: The New Year (teacher's guide). Boston, Mass: Modern Curriculum Press.

Nguyen, R. Tet. http:\\www.kidlink.org\KIDPROJ\MCC\2.E.2.html

Tet. http:\\www.saigon.com\~nguyent\tet.html

Tet. http:\\www.viettour.com\tet.html

Telephone interview: Teresa, a Vietnamese woman in Pittsburg, California.


Reprinted with permission from Teacher Link, a great resource for parents and teachers. Copyright 2001 Teacher Link


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