I’ve never been a big fan of flowers, is probably something most guys would say. Particularly for us Aussie men, our masculinity levels are sky high in the macho land Down Under and flowers are generally reserved for appreciation by females and homosexual men. After an inner battle with myself, spurred on by a goal to help the constant struggle for equality, I’m going to proudly admit that I love them!
Perhaps I’m getting more queer, older or maybe it’s just the vivid and inspiring range of tropical flowers blooming all year in Vietnam – I just can’t help to examine and appreciate flowers and plants more than ever. No matter how much my interest grows though, it’ll always be dwarfed by the Vietnamese people’s crazed obsession for them – particularly strong around Tet (Lunar New Year).
The Hoa Mai is one particular flower whose captivating petals receive more attention than most (not only from me!). Often referred to as an Apricot Blossom in English, it belongs to the Forsythia family and is a native of East Asia. There are over a dozen varieties of Forsythia found in both Korea and China and a random one over in Europe, though the most well-known is Japan’s cherry blossom, which come springtime will attract thousands of people from around the world to it’s shores and parks.
Two common varieties of Forsythia can be found in Vietnam. “Hoa Dao” (Peach Blossom) is pink incolour, representing good fortune, and favoured by people from the north of Vietnam.
In the warmer southern climate of Vietnam you’ll find the bright yellow Hoa Mai (Apricot Blossom) is much more popular and also represents prosperity and wealth.
Before Lunar New Year each household usually buys at least one tree or large branch that when cared for in the final days of the year, will magnificently bloom for the start of spring – believed to bring good luck to the house and all it’s dwellers. A lot of people are even lucky enough to have their own healthy Hoa Mai bush at home from past years.
It’s not so much the luscious golden petals and flashy orange anthers (thanks google) that make this plant so curious but the hundreds on cute unopened buds that patiently wait,….
and slowly open over the course of a day…
till they suddenly…
Opening up they reveal a brightly coloured flower with thin and delicate petals that seem to hang on for the next 24 hours only to go tumbling to the floor with smallest gust of wind or slightest brush of an elbow. You must be careful around these plants at New Year and treat them gently – plants should not be moved too much and flowers should not be disturbed. The beauty should be carefully retained.
The traditional Hoa Mai has flowers with only five petals though these day hybrids are more common and these newer varieties can have up to 8! As well as the flowers, the plant itself represents good luck and wealth for the coming year but more importantly, they remind Vietnamese of the soon approaching and always anticipated Tet Holiday period.
Celebrating the start of spring, it’s a time for most to return from work in the hectic cities and back to their family homes throughout the boundless countryside. The 4 main days of Tet are spent visiting loved ones, eating tonnes of delicious food with family and friends (offering a little to ancestors), singing karaoke and starting the year with a jubilant and positive mind full of goodwill towards others.
The Hoa Mai is charming, elegant, joyful, marvelous and just… superb.
The Hoa Mai is Tet.