You probably won’t hear many guys admit they’re a big fan of flowers. Particularly us Aussie men, our macho levels are sky high and flowers are generally reserved for appreciation by our girlfriends and mothers. Spurred on by the constant struggle for equality I’m going to proudly admit – I love them!
Perhaps it’s the older age, my oppressed femininity or maybe it’s just the vivid and inspiring range of tropical flowers blooming almost all year in Vietnam. I’d say it a mix of all three. No matter how much my interest grows it’ll always be dwarfed by the Vietnamese people’s absolute obsession for them. It’s particularly strong around Tet holiday (Lunar New Year).
The Hoa Mai is one flower whose captivating petals receive much more attention than most. 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 in colour and represents good fortune. It’s more suitable to northern Vietnam weather conditions and so it’s favoured by people from Hanoi.
In the warmer climate of southern Vietnam you’ll find the bright yellow Hoa Mai (Apricot Blossom) is much more common. It also represents prosperity and wealth.
Before Lunar New Year each household usually buys one small tree or a large branch that when cared for in the final days of winter, will magnificently bloom for the start of spring and 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 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 brush of an elbow. Now this is where you must be careful and treat them gently. Plants should not be moved too much in the first few days of the year and flowers shouldn’t 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. In addition to 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 New Year Holiday period.
It’s a time for most to return from work in the hectic cities and back to their homes throughout the boundless countryside or regional cities. The celebration of the new years last for four days and are spent visiting loved ones, eating tonnes of delicious food (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, marvellous and just superb.
The Hoa Mai is New Year.