By My Pham and Siân Kavanagh, photos by My Pham and Siân Kavanagh
When you know where to look, there is the opportunity to celebrate two new years in less than two months in Aarhus. There is a fairly large community of students and residents who observe Lunar New Year which typically falls between the end of January and mid-February. With no fixed date, the 15 day festival is celebrated in many countries in the Asia Pacific region and is commonly referred to as Chinese New Year, though China is not the only country that celebrates this holiday.
The quiet scenes at the Vietnamese Buddhist temple in Aarhus during late February have been replaced by a vivid atmosphere seen only in special occasions. The temple is wrapped in colors of pink peach blossom, yellow apricot blossom and red lucky money envelopes with people worshiping, chatting and exchanging wishes in the first days of the lunar new year.
Visiting Buddhist pagodas is one of the most popular traditions of Vietnamese during Tet, the country’s most important festival in the year, marking the arrival of spring based on the Lunar calendar. People normally go to show gratitude toward Buddhist gods for their blessing during the past year and wish for a lucky year ahead.
A year-end party is held several days before Tet, followed by an event countdowning to the transition moment between the two years and many other worshiping rituals. The temple’s activities for Tet this year are held throughout the first lunar month and open for all Buddhist followers and Vietnamese people.
Tet is the time for Vietnamese families to reunite. People can take around a week off work or school to celebrate Tet in their hometowns. During this time, people get together to prepare food, clean the house, and worship their ancestors. In the first few days of the new lunar year, Vietnamese have a tradition to visit their relatives’ house to wish them a prosperous year and give lucky money in red envelopes, known as ‘lì xì’, to children and old people.
There are more than 2500 Vietnamese people in Aarhus, making the community to be the 6th largest among 178 foreign communities in the city by the end of 2017, according to state institution Denmark Statistics.
“Tet celebration here is shorter and more simple than in Vietnam as we still have to go to work. We normally gather with our families or other Vietnamese in the town for a year-end party, sometimes make ‘banh chung’ – a traditional cake made with rice, green beans and pork, and then visit the pagoda to pray for a lucky year ahead,” said Chung, a Vietnamese person currently working in Aarhus. He has moved to and been living in Denmark more than 20 years. “Though, it’s still a special time of the year for our community here to get closer”.
Chinese New Year, or the Spring Festival as it is literally translated from Chinese, is a time of reunion with family and lots of celebration with homemade foods and good company. For many students in Aarhus they may be celebrating their first Lunar New Year away from home, and so they turn to their new friends to share traditions and make their own celebrations. Some people came together for a small celebration February 16th, the first night of the Spring festival, to enjoy the evening with their favourite music, traditional dumplings, fresh cooked hot pot, and mahjong the strategic card game.
An-Yu “Jessie” Lin from Taiwan was one of the students celebrating together with her new friends in Aarhus. “Dumplings really matter because the shapes look like gold, accurately look like traditional money in ancient China,” she says.
The evening consisted of students who celebrated Lunar New Year from China, Taiwan, and Indonesia who also opened up the evening to their other classmates to create a warm atmosphere and share the fun. “Chinese New Year is a long festival and the main meaning is a reunion with families and friends,” remarked Jessie, “[It’s] just sharing these special moments with your loved ones.”