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When Lịch Bloc Is Gone, What Will Vietnam Use to Keep Discarded Fish Bones?

I have never bought a lịch bloc, or tear-off calendar, for personal use, because every new year, I'm bound to be gifted a brand-new one. In Vietnam, a calendar is often something one purchases as a present for others.

The tear-off calendar has been a typical item in local households for centuries. There were even records of Nguyễn-Dynasty authorities overseeing the production of new calendars to give out during Tết. The act of ripping off a page from the calendar block is so historically relevant that it even gives rise to the crude slang phrase “bóc lịch,” loosely translated as “calendar ripping,” referring to jail time.

Brightly colored calendars sold alongside Tết decorations at a store in District 5.

In recent years, it's reported that all calendar sales have been on the decline because new calendar designs are repetitive and boring; people routinely receive them as free promotional gifts; and since the time and date are readily available on smartphones, tear-off calendars have become somewhat obsolete. The iconic Tết staple is no exception to this drop in popularity.

When it comes to Tết gifts, many prefer to receive aesthetically pleasing items like gift baskets, which can be displayed at home, making rooms feel fresh and new. Calendars, in contrast, simply offer mundane images few remember to tear off. 

Lịch bloc comes in many sizes for every home.

But I feel that we might take calendars for granted because beyond their stated function of time-keeping, they affect our lives in subtle ways. My mother often uses the pages to write checklists for her morning market trips. My family occasionally uses them for food wrapping or as just a placemat to discard fish bones during family meals.

This page will often end up on the dining table as a fishbone holder, or in the trash after a doodle session is finished.

My most vivid memory with calendars, however, dates back to when I was five. I loved drawing and couldn’t fight the urge to scribble everywhere, especially on the wall. My parents had to put a stop to it before I ruined the house. So they gave me spare calendar pages to doodle on and thus tearing a new page off the bloc became an exciting routine.

Lịch bloc may eventually lose its main function, but their spare papers and their offering of marginal conveniences will remain a part of our lives. Even though they may not be as significant as other Tết gifts, they have one advantage over fancy, expensive presents: when Tết is over, decorations are taken down, snacks from gift baskets are all eaten, and we all go back to our normal lives, but there will always be a calendar on your wall for another 300-some days, with all of its Tết visuals, maintaining a touch of festive energy remains in your house throughout the rest of the year.

Vignette is a series of tiny essays from our writers, where we reflect, observe, and wax poetic about the tiny things in life.

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