Setting up a Bàn Thờ or Shrine for Tết Lunar New Year is an easy yet complex task.
Watch our Chopsticks Alley Talk - Live Tet Edition - Episode 11 to learn more about our traditions.
The idea behind having a Bàn Thờ or Shrine is to give thanks to our ancestors and to the gods once a year for all the blessings we've received. It is also an opportunity to pray for the blessings and things we would like to achieve.
Cúng, to pray, is an important part of every Vietnamese Tet celebration. I will outline the 3 times we are suppose to pray, but it is up to you how much of this tradition you'd like to follow. I personally only do one indoor shrine on New Year's Eve because I don't believe in the Kitchen God, Ông Táo, but I do like to give thanks to the Universe for all the blessings we've received.
Cúng Ông Táo Về Trời - Sending off the Kitchen God to heaven: 7 days before Lunar New Year.
This is a way to bribe the Kitchen God to not report too many of your sins to Heaven.
Cúng Giao Thừa Indoors- To welcome the spirits of our ancestors and to welcome the Kitchen God back into the home: Lunar New Year's Eve.
Cúng Giao Thừa Outdoors - To provide prayers for the dead who have no homes and also to the give blessings to the Convoy of Earthly Gods on their way to and from Hades: Lunar New Year's Eve.
Items needed to Setup the Shrines: The items we buy as part of the shrine vary from family to family based on your own traditions. I recommend you do what feels the best to you and what makes you the happiest.
For this DIY shrine, I choose to follow traditions that come mostly from the South of Vietnam because that's where I grew up with a few sprinklings of traditions from the North because that's where my Maternal family comes from.
* 3 Cups for tea, water, or rice wine
* 1 Urn or bowl to hold some uncooked rice for the incense sticks
* 2 candles
* Tet decorations
* Spring Flowers, any type you like. Vietnamese households prefer mums or plum/peach blossoms.
* Bánh Chưng or Bánh Tét - Square or long rice cakes filed with pork and mung beans
* Candied Fruits
* Pickled Daikons and Leeks
* Not pictured: Braised pork and egg, pickled bean sprouts, boiled chicken, steamed pork patties, soups, Chè (Dessert), and much much more...
* Fruits for New Year's Eve: Usually you need five types of fruits. I don't follow these specifications exactly as my family offers many different selections of fruits not just five. My mom follows the Cầu Vừa Đủ Xài or Cầu Dừa Đủ Xoài philosopy (Cherimoya fruits, Coconuts, Papayas and Mangoes, buy them in pairs for good luck) which means praying to just have enough to spend, literally, the sounds of the names of these fruits express this sentiment - Asking for more than we need is considered greedy and it will displease the Gods. Here I added watermelon, apples, and tangerines because they made the platter fuller. Click here for additional information on the reasons why we offer fruits.
Additional fruits that are considered good: Pineapple and watermelon.
Fruits to avoid: Bananas, oranges, and apples are typically avoided in Southern households.
Some families even put out chopsticks, plates and bowls as they imagine the spirits of their dead ancestors sitting down to enjoy the feast they've prepared. Once the incense are burnt off, we are then allowed to eat items on the shrine. This is called hạ bàn thờ, lower the shrine.
My simple advice, make it festive and make it yours! The Shrine is simply a reminder of the abundance of the earth and should bring joy into your home as you celebrate Tet with your loved ones. Don't make it into a big chore or google too many articles on this topic as it may leave you even more confused. We hope you find these tips helpful.
Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!
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Trami Nguyen Cron
Founder, Chief Editor
Trami is the founder of Chopsticks Alley and author of VietnamEazy, a novel about Mothers, Daughters and Food. She is passionate about the emergence of the VietNow culture in America. As a Vietnamese-American, she created Chopsticks Alley as a platform for the younger Vietnamese generation to have a space to express their point of views about news, business, art, food, and culture. She hopes this platform will also help to unite the Vietnamese Community all over the world.