Vietnamese Culture - A 1970's Perspective
                     copyright 1996, Vn-families

Issue #5. 1971 - The Joy of "first writing of the new year", by Thuy 
Ngoc, Vietnam Bulletin February 8, 1971.

This is a set of reprints from the Vietnam Bulletin, a weekly 
publication by the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, DC, during the 
period from 1967 to 1975. The original articles were not copyrighted. 

We will run this column weekly until we run out of interesting cultural 
articles. 
Please direct all questions to trant@teleport.com
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Here is the proposed schedule of this column.

Issue #1:  Tet 1971 in Vietnam! by Phu Si, VB710118 - Jan 17, 1996
Issue #2:  The Unicorn dance at Tet, by Minh Tam, VB710118 -
           Jan 24, 1996.
Issue #3:  The origin of Tao Quan, the three kitchen gods, by
           George F. Schultz, VB710118 - Jan 31, 1996.
Issue #4:  1971 - The year of the Pig, by Van Ngan, VB710118 -
           Feb 7, 1996.
Issue #5   The Joy of "first writing of the new year", by Thuy Ngoc,
           VB710208- Feb 14, 1996
Issue #6:  Traditional Vietnamese male attire, by Van Ngan, VB710208 -
           Feb 21, 1996
          
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             THE JOY OF "FIRST WRITING OF THE NEW YEAR"
                         By Thuy Ngoc

Saigon (MF) January I971.  It is crisp this morning, the first of the 
New Year. I have already started an aloe wood fire to chase away the 
wicked atmosphere of yesteryear and have washed my hands in perfumed 
water. Now it is time for the "first writing of this new year", a most 
important task.

Yes, all is in readiness; the scarlet red Hong Dieu paper for 
cheerfulness and luck, a new brush pen of sable for cleanliness and 
purity, and a fresh slab of stark black ink symbolizing stability.

What shall I write to guide the destiny of this coming year? A "Duong" 
poem like Phan Dinh Phung, "The oriole sings melodiously in the yard..." 
That would be in keeping with Vietnamese heritage.

How far back are the origins of the first writing of the New Year 
tradition? Thousands of years, back into the antiquity of ancient China 
where the beauties of graceful calligraphy prompted man to seed in the 
written word not only the moral worth of the author but the external 
symbolization of his character within the disciplined beauty of his 
penmanship. How true is the old Vietnamese maxim, "Senseful ideas, 
beautiful hand-writing."

The "first writing of the New Year" is the most important. For each year 
is a completely new phase of life, a circle of destiny. What happened 
last year is forgotten; just as nature shrugs off the moldering leaves 
of winter, so does man. A new period is begun different, vital, 
promising. One's thoughts at this first moment must be noble and 
enriching.

True, many uneducated people buy quick poster calligraphs from fortune 
tellers at the pagoda rather than trust themselves to the ritual of the 
first writing. But I prefer to cast my own fortune with my own hand. 
Happiness, luck, joy, all may be mine during this New Year.

Ah, but that too is an ignoble thought for this occasion. On New Year's 
morn, one must rise above mundane things for beauty and honour go beyond 
self. That is the importance of a New Year, of the "first writing". No 
mere Phuc (fortune) or the usual "five happiness" calligraphs suffices 
for one's own home.

The first writing must be elegant, noble and beautiful. Such as the 
verses of famed female poet Ho Xuan Huong:

"On the last night of the old year doors should be closed tightly else 
Satan will bring in his devils,

"On the first day of the new year, the Creator opens wide the door for 
the Lady to welcome Spring."

I must elevate myself to a lofty plane and execute the writing with 
precision, clarity and strokes bold yet delicate, full-bodied yet 
sharply defined. It must be kept throughout the year in the confucianist 
tradition.

What shall I write? It must be universal, something to set the mode of 
life for the coming year, to create the tone and temper of events for my 
family and my country.

Ah, I have it!

"Hoa Binh" -- Peace. How perfect!