Recapturing Saigon Tet atmosphere of 100 years ago

By Quynh Tran   February 1, 2021 | 05:28 pm GMT+7
A group of young culture aficionados in Saigon have displayed their century-old collection of traditional Tet items.
On January 30, two weeks before Tet (Lunar New Year), people were drawn to an event organized by a group of young people to showcase Saigon’s heritage. ‘Dau An Sai Gon’ (Impression of Saigon) at the National Archives Center 2 on Le Duan Street, District 1 had a display of items traditionally used during the festival, lion dancing, traditional calligraphy, and discussions about Tet in southern Vietnam.Candy Nguyen, the group leader, said: Our group has collected more than 100 antiques from Vietnamese and people of Chinese descent to recreate old-style Tet in Saigon. Members are present to provide explanations so that visitors can get a clear idea of how things used to be in the old days.

On January 30, two weeks before Tet (Lunar New Year), people were drawn to an event organized by a group of young people to showcase Saigon’s heritage.
‘Dau An Saigon’ (Impression of Saigon) at the National Archives Center 2 on Le Duan Street, District 1 had a display of items traditionally used during the festival, lion dancing, traditional calligraphy, and discussions about Tet in southern Vietnam.
Candy Nguyen, the group leader, said: "We have collected more than 100 antiques from Vietnamese and people of Chinese descent to recreate old-style Tet in Saigon. Group members are present to provide explanations so that visitors can get a clear idea of how things used to be in the old days."

An altar with an incense holder, flower vase, table and lamps all more than a century old. Nearly half the space is taken up by an exhibition of Tet decorations at the dawn of the 20th century.A Vietnamese history and culture geek might notice the subtle differences between northern and southern style altars. A typical Saigon altar consists of two incense holders in the middle and two lamps on either side. A flower vase is in the left corner and fruit offerings are put on a three-legged plate called ‘cho’ on the opposite side.

An altar with incense holders, a flower vase, table and lamps all more than a century old.
Nearly half the space is taken up by an exhibition of Tet decorations at the dawn of the 20th century.
A Vietnamese history and culture geek might notice the subtle differences between northern and southern style altars. A typical Saigon altar consists of two incense holders in the middle and two lamps on either side. A flower vase is in the left corner and fruit offerings are put on a three-legged plate called ‘cho’ on the opposite side.

The house owner welcomes guests to a space near the altar. Yellow flowers such as daisy and apricot are displayed in the living room. Guests are offered sweets, tea and ‘trau cau’ (betel leaf and areca nut).

The house owner welcomes guests to a space near the altar. Yellow flowers such as daisy and apricot are displayed in the living room. Guests are offered sweets, tea and ‘trau cau’ (betel leaf and areca nut).

A mother of pearl inlay box used for sweets. The nearly 100-year-old box is an inheritance of a member’s family.Once-popular sweets during Tet like candied ginger, ‘banh in’ (molded rice cakes), lotus seeds and licorice were made by the group.

A mother of pearl inlay box used for sweets. The nearly 100-year-old box is an inheritance of a member’s family.
Once-popular sweets during Tet like candied ginger, ‘banh in’ (molded rice cakes), lotus seeds and licorice were made by the group.

A lion head used for dancing at Tet.The lion is one of the four holy animals, according to Chinese beliefs, together with the dragon, turtle and phoenix. In Vietnam, the lion head dance symbolizes peace and prosperity.

A lion head used for dancing at Tet. In Vietnam, the lion head dance symbolizes peace and prosperity.

Dong Ho woodblock printed paintings, ‘tranh kieng Nam Bo’ (reverse glass paintings of the south) and spring music sheets were popular in Saigon at Tet over 50 years ago.

Dong Ho woodblock printed paintings, ‘tranh kieng Nam Bo’ (reverse glass paintings of the south) and spring music sheets were popular in Saigon at Tet over 50 years ago.

Jewelry used for going out in the first days of the Lunar New Year.

Jewelry used when going out in the first days of the Lunar New Year.

Tran Phuong Thao, 25, tries on an ao tac (a loose-fitting traditional dress). The dress, which originated in feudal times, is worn on special occasions such as Tet and weddings.The dress I am wearing used to be very popular in Saigon at the beginning of the 20th century, Thao said. It’s really interesting to wear clothes in the style of our ancestors.

Tran Phuong Thao, 25, tries on an 'ao tac' (a loose-fitting traditional dress). The dress, which originated in feudal times, was worn on special occasions such as Tet and weddings.
"The dress I am wearing used to be very popular in Saigon at the beginning of the 20th century," Thao said. "It’s really interesting to wear clothes in the style of our ancestors."

A living room with furniture from the 1960s and an old tape recorder and radio on the mantelpiece.

A living room with furniture from the 1960s and an old tape recorder and radio on the table.

A collection of music sheets with songs about spring carefully preserved in a plastic-wrapped album. Collecting music sheets was a hobby of Saigonese in the 1950s. Artworks on the cover and song lyrics and music notes inside was a format that appealed to Saigonese then.

A collection of music sheets with songs about spring carefully preserved in a plastic-wrapped album.
Collecting music sheets was a hobby of Saigonese in the 1950s. Artworks on the cover and song lyrics and music notes inside was a format that appealed to Saigonese then.

A calligrapher  (in black dress) writes beautiful characters which are expected to herald good lucks for the New Year. The event also featured a reenactment of fortune telling that used to be popular during Tet by reading straws or quoting the renowned poem ‘The Tale of Kieu’ by the great poet Nguyen Du of the 19th century.

A calligrapher (in black dress) writes beautiful characters for a guest which are believed to bring about good lucks in the New Year.
The event also featured a reenactment of fortune telling that used to be popular during Tet by reading straws or quoting sentences in the renowned poem ‘The Tale of Kieu’ by Nguyen Du.
Nguyen Du, a Vietnamese poet in the 19th century, was recognized by UNESCO as a "Great Poet".

 
 
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