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Xông Đất and the Art of Not Letting Randos Into Your Home on Mùng Một

Tết permeates all areas of life this time of the year, from TV programs to online memes and highly detailed charts, tables, and infographics that guide people to participate in a popular new year activity called xông đất.

Xông đất, which can be translated as first-footing, refers to the first visitor a family receives after midnight on lunar New Year's Eve. But according to traditions, to maximize the luck of the family in the upcoming year, the all-important first visit cannot be just anyone. There is a complex system based on the Asian zodiac dictating if you are “age-compatible” with the person you’re visiting and if you're not, visiting them may bring bad luck and total desolation, or so the system claims.

I’ve known of xông đất since I was a kid, but to this day it still bothers me because aside from the age system that I find hard to believe, the tradition includes other requirements that often turn into inconveniences, such as having to wake up fairly early to be the first one visiting, and the need to wear bright colors, avoiding black and white.

Many tend to take the tradition to an extreme. There are stories online galore about family businesses spending millions of dong to hire an age-compatible person to first-foot them in the new year. Meanwhile, others modify the tradition to make it more convenient. One year, my mother discovered that my age was compatible with my father, the home owner, so after the New Year fireworks at midnight she told me to leave the house, jog around the neighborhood and come back so that I would “technically” first-foot my own home. 

And when I’ve participated in the xông Đất without trickery, it was worthwhile for reasons unrelated to the superstition. When I was teenager I had to wake up early to first-foot my relatives while still half-asleep. My drowsiness soon turned into excitement when I discovered that my tech-savvy cousin had just bought a new PS4. For a kid with a PC that lagged trying to run Minecraft, a triple-A gaming experience was all I needed to start the new year well. It didn’t grant me good luck for the whole year, but it was simply an exceptional day well spent.

What I once got wrong about xông đất is focusing too much on age-compatibility, incorrectly assuming it to be the most important part of the tradition. Rather, something the guides emphasize, aside from age calculations, an integral part of the tradition is how “the first day of the year should go well to set the momentum for the rest of the year.” 

At its core, xông đất is simply a means for Vietnamese to share good feelings with one another and set off the year with some positive vibes. And if someone needs rules about birthdays and attire colors to help them achieve this positive entrance to the new lunar year, I think there is nothing wrong with that. While I may find some rules bothersome, I’m happy to look past those inconveniences in exchange for lively feelings and good memories on New Year’s Day.

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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