Note: This post was written in 2014. For this year, the Lunar New Year starts on Thursday, 2/8/16, ushering in the Year of the Fire Monkey. Everything else still applies though.
Lunar New Year is coming up, and those of you who still keep referring to it as “Chinese New Year,” you lose three cultural competency points. That’s like saying “American Christmas” or “Mexican Fourth of July,” all right? We all know that Christmas and Fourth of July are celebrated everywhere.
In Vietnamese culture, we call the Lunar New Year “Tet,” and it is the biggest and best and most festive period in the year ever. The weeks leading up to it are magical, as if everyone in the country just got a general operating grant. People are all busy preparing by decorating with plum and apricot blossoms and making traditional foods like sticky rice cakes and candied coconut, and there is a wonderful energy in the air and the kids are excited and the adults are happy and a few uncles get drunk and fall of their motorcycles while carrying plum or apricot branches home while teenagers point and laugh. Sigh…I miss my childhood…
But Tet is also symbolic, representing a new beginning and a clean slate. So while everyone is high on life during this time, there is a serious side as well. In order to have a great new beginning, people spend considerable time and effort to take care of all the unfinished crap. This goes for individuals, families, and businesses. And of course, this goes for us in the nonprofit field.
So, to start the Year of the Horse off right, we have to take care of stuff that is symbolically weighing us down. I’ve listed some things below. You don’t have to do all of them, but the more you can take care of, the more luck and good fortune you (and your organization) will have in the New Year. Whatever you do, do it BEFORE midnight on 1/31 (Friday morning):
- Clean your desk—Cleaning is a huge part of Tet preparation, and families will spend days cleaning their houses till everything is spotless. You probably have all sorts of crap on your desk and in your drawers, random receipts, what the hell is that, some sort of Powerpoint slide printout from six years ago on the 40 Developmental Assets or something? Store or get rid of it all!
- Clean your car—If you’re like me, you have tons of junk you collect from various meetings, all accumulating in the backseat of your car. Then there are probably half-drunk bottles of water that you take from those same meetings. And energy bar wrappers and other snack wrappers. If your car looks like a hoarder’s car, now is the time to clean it.
- Decorate your office: Traditionally, people decorate with flowers and things that are red and gold/yellow, which are lucky colors. You don’tneed to go overboard with the decorating. Look at your office plants. If they are dead, get rid of them. Buy a yellow potted flower like mums or a lucky bamboo. Both symbolize renewal and good fortune. Most Vietnamese homes will also have a tray with a whole bunch of different fruit (at least five types) to symbolize bountifulness, so think about doing that. Even if it doesn’t bring good luck, we nonprofit staff can all use more fiber.
- Pay off your debts—This is a huge part of preparing for Tet. You do not want to start the year owing money to people. It is very bad luck. So, if there are any outstanding bills, pay them now. If you personally owe a coworker even five bucks because he spotted you some cash for coffee or whatever, pay him. If your staff have any reimbursement requests in, cut them their checks.
- Collect on debts—Collecting on debts can be unpleasant, so it is best to do it before the New Year starts. Plus, people are more anxious to pay off their debts during this time, so it is easier to do. If you have invoiced for reimbursement-based grants or whatever and it’s taking a long time, start being more assertive. Call up government funders and say, “If you don’t send reimbursement checks before 2/8, you’re being culturally insensitive.” This also goes for overdue pledged donations.
- Apologize to people—You want to start Tet off with a clean slate, so make a list of all the people you’ve slighted, for example people you’ve accidentally stood up this year, staff who spent their own money to buy supplies whom you didn’t reimburse for several months, hipsters you made fun of during a keynote speech, interns whom you ordered to get you a vegan soy caramel Macchiato at Starbucks while forgetting that it’s their birthday, etc. Call or email them to apologize.
- Forgive people—You don’t want to start the new year with bitterness in your heart. So, whatever hatred or disdain you have for people who have wronged you, such as your boss or coworker or board member, now is the time to take care of it and/or let all that go. Forgive as much as you can, and act on it with conviction by treating everyone nicely. Even the hipsters with their skinny jeans and weather-inappropriate scarves. If you find it hard to let go of these negative feelings, just remember that there will be plenty more bitterness and grudges for you to develop and harbor in the coming year.
- Get a haircut: If you don’t really need a haircut, then don’t worry too much about this. If you are thinking of getting one, do it now before the new year starts. Getting your hair cut before Tet symbolizes shedding off of bad luck or whatever negative energies attached themselves to you this year. During the first three days of Tet, your hair now symbolizes good luck, so you can’t get a haircut during these three days.
- Thank people: During Tet, families take time to visit the graves of ancestors, where they clean the tombstones and light incense to remember where they came from, and to ask the ancestors for a multi-year general operating grant. It is a time for reflection and appreciation, so call or send a note to thank your key funders, donors, volunteers, board members, and other awesome people. Especially thank any people who were historically critical to the organization, such as founders.
- Request Monday, 2/8 off. I’m very serious. Very few people work during the first day of Tet. This is the happiest day of the year and everyone spends it with family and friends. If you have to work, try to do only tasks that you enjoy. The belief is that whatever you do and feel on the first day of Tet is what you’ll experience the rest of the year. So if you are stressed and overworked or resisting the urge to strangle that one annoying committee member who always speaks out of turn while saying stupid irrelevant things, that’s your fate for a whole year.
On the first day of Tet [2/8/2016], you and your house and organization are infused with a dose of good luck, provided you followed some of theabove steps. Don’t do anything that would symbolize getting rid of this good luck. For example, don’t get a haircut, don’t take out the trash, don’t do laundry. If you are staying home, you can probably skip showering as well. And for the love of general operating grants, try to brush aside stressful things and remain happy.
Good luck, and may the Year of the Fire Monkey bring you good health, peace of mind, stability, and a general operating grant or two.
(Note: By reading this blog post all the way through, you have earned 10 Cultural Competency Points and are on your way to becoming a Cultural Competency Unicorn. See list of CC points as well as titles you can earn.)