The TET altar, what does it mean?
Everyone has seen the family altars in Vietnamese houses, businesses, and shops. They are an integral part of the Vietnamese culture and are used to honor their ancestors. Though most family altars are unique, they do all share some common components.
· Incense burner
· Vase for flowers
· A place for offering food, treats or tea
· Pictures portraying family members
During Lunar New Year, TET, altars get additionally offerings, especially the five-fruit tray.
The five-fruit tray of TET
In preparation of the Lunar New Year, families all across the country enlarge their family altars with trays of fruit. Normally they select 5 different fruits, with each representing an element. These five elements are believed to have constituted the entire universe.
The special offering starts 7 days prior to the Lunar New Year and is geared toward the Kitchen Gods. The Kitchen Gods are believed to give a report to the Jade Emperor about the family and this ceremony is to please the Kitchen God so he provides a positive report and ensures luck and happiness over the family.
Each region has its own customs and expectations when it comes to the presentation of the altar. We will have a brief look at some distinctions between different regions in Vietnam.
Though each family creates its own offerings, in general, you can find the following five fruits on Norther altars: bananas, grapefruit, peach, tangerine, and persimmons. The bottom of the tray is filled with the green bananas and grapefruits and then topped off with the other fruits.
The central Vietnamese altars are in between those of the north and the south. Common fruits that can be found on these altars are bananas, soursop, papaya, coconuts, and mangos.
Since pronunciation in the south differs from the north and certain fruits are selected for their resemblance to other words, you won’t find bananas on southern altars. Banana has a similar pronunciation to the Vietnamese word for ‘showing challenges’.
On southern altars, we commonly find soursop, coconut, papaya, mango, and fig. Additionally, you can find both pineapples and watermelons as part of the southern altar.
The deeper meaning of fruits
Most of these fruits stand for certain wishes or hopes. We have a short overview of different fruits and what they represent:
· Peach: Shows advancement in life.
· Apple: Represents wealth.
· Persimmon, Tangerine: Are associated with success.
· Green bananas: Is seen as an upward hand, holding luck and protection.
· Fig: The symbol of fullness in health and money.
· Papaya: Prosperity.
And a fish…
Finally, to end the ceremony, it’s customary to release a fish into a nearby stream or river. The fish is seen as the messenger between the Kitchen Gods and the Jade Emperor.