goodbye water snake…hello wood horse

Today, January 31st in the Gregorian calendar, is the first and most important day of the Lunar New Year or Tết. This biggest-holiday-in-Vietnam  is spent with close and extended family, where time is enjoyed together and blessings for the future are made.

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2014 is the Year of the Wooden Horse, a symbol of energy, intelligence and success.  This year is considered a time for fast victories, unexpected adventure, and surprising romance. It is also an excellent year for travel (gotta love that!), and the further off the beaten path, the better.

I started this auspicious day off right…with a yummy cà phê sữa đá! Click here if you want to learn how make this famous Vietnamese iced milk coffee at home!

Refreshing Vietnamese iced coffee at Continental Hotel

Refreshing Vietnamese iced coffee at Continental Hotel

After breakfast at the historic Continental Hotel, I took a stroll around Nguyen Hue St. and soaked in a little of the first day of Tết festivities.

Beautiful girl in ao day with Tết flowers

Pretty girl in ao dai dress and traditional Tết flowers

Families were in full swing, sporting new clothes and posing in front of an abundance of vivid Tết decorations and flowers.

This cutie caught my eye!

This cutie caught my eye!

During Tết, the city is so much quieter, with many gone to their hometowns to celebrate the new year. So many fewer motos, but I did catch this one…

Moto Tết girl

Moto Tết girl

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Cool cat!

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Lovely mother and daughter enjoying flower festival

Vietnamese people believe that a lion dance performance on the first day of the Lunar New Year will make the year a prosperous one. It is very often mistaken (I’m guilty!) for a dragon dance. In a lion dance, you do not normally see the performer’s face as they are inside the lion and it is most often performed by two people. In a dragon dance, there can be many performers and you see their faces as the dragon is held on poles. The lion dance is accompanied by synchronized drums, cymbals and gongs. I found these lions prancing outside our apartment building! Here is a tiny snippet of their dance so that you, too, can have a lucky year:

 

To think of Tết simply as a New Year celebration would miss the mark completely. It is a very special occasion lasting officially for four days (although many celebrate for two weeks!) that are filled with tradition and special family time. It is also a time when the Vietnamese people celebrate their culture and share a common goal of peace and love.

Saigon LOVE and Chúc Mừng Năm Mới to you and yours, Lisa

tết is in the air

Today is Tết (Vietnamese New Year), the most important and celebrated holiday in Vietnam. Easy in Saigon to see when Tết is upon us. In preparation everyone was cleaning, painting, cooking, shopping and decorating. Soon there were dragon dances, lucky money envelopes, festive parties, and sparkling fireworks all over the city!

pretty  flower girl

pretty flower girl

This is also the time for haircuts, new clothes and many flowers. One of the most beautiful New Year traditions in Vietnam are the flower markets.  In Saigon there are more than fifty, including my favorite on downtown Nguyen Hue Street, which blooms for one week as a pedestrian flower street. Everyone dresses in their finery and strolls down the street enjoying time together and the spectacular floral displays.

I had a wonderful time mingling and snapping away during this very special time. Get in the Tết spirit with Happy New Year by Abba (most popular tune during Tết) and this wee slideshow prepared just for you:

You may have noticed that my photography skills have improved a little. The credit goes to my talented photography teacher and guru, Yan Lerval. Yan is the person who helped me to finally understand the mechanics of my camera! Not only has he imparted great camera and photo editing knowledge, he is now a dear friend. Click on his name to see his amazing collection of Vietnam photos.

Yan and his lovely wife

Yan and his lovely wife, Nhan, at one of the many flower markets

Farewell to the year of the dragon and welcome to the year of the snake! Chúc Mừng Năm Mới (Happy New Year) and Saigon LOVE to all, Lisa

here comes the bride

Love this photo of two brides posing outside Notre Dame.

The traditional Vietnamese wedding is one of the most important ceremonies in Vietnamese culture. In the past, most marriages were arranged by the parents, and while children were sometimes consulted, it was the parents’ final decision. It was not unusual for the bride and groom to meet for the first time on the day of their engagement. Today, most Vietnamese couples marry for love and while some of the old traditions remain, new customs are also being adopted. Sometimes a wedding will last for days or even a week! It would take several blogs to detail all the rituals involved but here is a little overview:

Preparations first begin by choosing a date and time for the marriage ceremony. This involves a Buddhist monk choosing a “lucky” wedding date and time based on the couple’s birthdates. The birthdates are even sometimes used  by Buddhist monk to determine if the couple is compatible before the engagement. This tradition does not change even if the family is Catholic.

After the engagement, many Vietnamese couples now take photos in Western-style white dresses and formal wear. You can see them almost every day posing outside the Notre Dame Basilica. Sunday is a big day for this so I hopped over yesterday to document for my Saigon Love readers. There must have been over twenty couples taking their photos. Such beautiful hope radiated from each of them, that I couldn’t help but get caught up in the action!

The wedding ceremonies begins with a visit from the groom bearing gifts to the bride’s home. Traditional gifts might include betel and areca-nut, fruit, cakes, a roast pig, fabric, and  jewelry for the bride from her new mother-in-law. Very appropriate that I am wearing one of my favorite pieces of vintage jewelry given to me by my new mother-in-law in the photo below!

Posing with a happy couple on their photo day!

After the bride’s family inspects the gifts, the bride’s mother will present her to the groom. Then the groom will bring her to his home and introduce her to his household in yet another traditional ceremony at his family’s altar to ask for permission from his ancestors.  In the old tradition, this is when the bride is brought to the wedding bed.

For the actual wedding ceremony, brides will wear an elaborate red (sometimes pink!) and gold Áo Dài dress embroidered with imperial symbols that represent happiness and prosperity.  Brides wear a matching headpiece. And this is just one of the dresses she will wear during the wedding. Vietnamese brides can change their dress up to four times during the festivities! Her groom will either wear a vest or a blue Áo Dài.

BFF Tien modeling a traditional wedding dress and headpiece.

At the end of the ceremonies, there is a wedding reception for the two families and friends. Guests bring gifts of money in red envelopes to defray from the wedding expenses and celebrate the good fortune of the happy couple!

The Notre Dame Basilica is a very popular wedding photo backdrop!

Saigon LOVE is in the air!

baby notre dame

This afternoon I attended mass at the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica in downtown Saigon a few blocks from our apartment.
This cathedral was built by French colonists in 1863 and the materials were all imported from France. It really is like the baby sister of the one in Paris.
In 2005, the statue in front was reported to be crying and attracted thousands of people forcing the government to stop traffic around the cathedral.  Eventually the Catholic church formally declared that it did not shed tears but that has not stopped the crowds from flocking to this day. The Notre Dame nuns’ habits are the traditional ao dai Vietnamese dress.  To be honest, they were the real reason I came to Notre Dame this afternoon.  I am researching ao dais for a later blog post!  They were so sweet and friendly.

The cathedral is a very popular tourist destination.  There are many tour buses surrounding the building.  It is also popular with local brides for photo shoots and many locals just like to hang out here. I bought this pretty rosary for Miss Margaret from one of the many vendors outside the cathedral.

LOVE to all!

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