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Flowers are of course exorbitant in Lunar ceremonies, yet the price remains largely stable normally. Generous people still buy flowers in bunches and those with meager financial means buy several, or even one rose with buds to add integrity to the candlelit altar.
What are flowers like this Tet? Incessant rains tear them apart. Chills freeze them from within. The sun gets them bloom out loud and scarcity means high prices. God knows if supplies of flowers are enough this Tet. Knowing that growers have numerous techniques to curb the bloom of flowers, yet our victories over nature are so whimsical. Weather forecast makes the crop either a miss or a hit. Nature has its own rules and sometimes breaks the rules as well. In a nutshell, no matter how expensive flowers can be, people still need flowers, and the Tet is not the same without flowers.
Old Tet flower markets usually took place on the ceremony of Kitchen Gods – Lunar December 23. Modern flower markets now take place earlier without any specific date, as we are snowed under works. Life changes, so does our rituals, which turn out to be messy in contrast of our preordained orders. Thinking that the mundane traffic is increasingly congested, and the mortal world mirrors the underworld, Kitchen Gods’ rituals are performed right on the 15th, 17th, 18th or 20th days. Poor the Kitchen God who has to depart on the carp too soon without realizing that there is no heavenly flower market to drop by.
Right in Lunar December, peach blossom trees, kumquats and flower pots are already seen in street corners or carried on bikes and motorbikes all over streets. Only the Tet has peach blossom trees and kumquats, and these two must go together to make a genuine Tet. Peach trees are a elegant and refined pursuit, which may either be easy and convenient, or puzzling and meticulous in term of selection. Busy and easy people just sweep through a flower market or any street corner to pick up a peach blossom branch or bonsai peach tree to complete their Tet.
As year ends, work piles up, so that some even buy peach trees in the late afternoon of the Lunar December 30. Year-ending peach blossoms may either be dirt cheap, or incredibly exorbitant. Elaborate people who delight in slow leisure regardless of their ages find the selection of peach blossom trees so time consuming, maybe a week, as they can hover around countless streets and peach blossom furrows to select a single peach blossom branch and buy it at will. Many target their peach blossom trees a month prior and make an order.
Peach blossoms’ charms above all, lie in their buds, petals and colors. Dark or fading pink blossoms are up to your palates. Fading peach petals are virginal and radiant without any showoffs. Dark red blossoms are light tiny flames that brighten and warm up the entire spring room. Buds are supposed to be dense and thick. Some like flowers to blossom in a row while others like buds to bloom out in turn, thus different choices of buds.
Those fond of bonsai peach trees should notice their branches, shapes and roots. The shaping of branches and roots represent the significance of beauty and fortunes of the year. A peach blossom tree speaks volumes of the skills of growers and aesthetic declarations of buyers. Fans of peach blossoms can also buy endemic peach blossom trees that shine forth in corners of gardens and preside all over high mountains, and are on sale across sidewalks.
A large living room can host a desirably well-trimmed wild peach branch. Peach blossoms in the North, ochnas in the South. Given favorable traffic conditions now, one can pick up peach blossoms or ochnas no matter what national division they live in.
Bonsai ochnas in pots look better than single branches. White ochnas with small blossoms, thin petals, scraggy trunk and tiny leaves can be arranged on table corner in the living room thanks to their tough and indomitable look.
Peach blossoms are friends of kumquats. Peach blossoms and kumquats in Nhat Tan are widely reputed. As urbanization goes rampant and land portions for peach blossoms and kumquats vanish, the trees survive. Nhat Tan kumquats have fine yellow fruits and evergreen leaves. The selection is equally daunting. Kumquats should have big roots and short trunk with various separate branches to infer to the reunions of different family generations. Their shapes are either round, or conical with different decorative branches on both sides. A tree should have both yellow and green fruits, fragrant white blooms and green baby leaves. Each year, besides kumquats there are many species with bigger citrus fruits and trunks such as tangerines and oranges. Bigger trees and fruits, bigger fortune. At this time there should be bonsai pomelo trees on sale. Everyone has his own ideas and tastes.
The exquisite and sustainable beauty of chrysanthemums is favored by the elderly and scholars. Cedar, bamboo, chrysanthemum and plum blossom are the four species to symbolize the temperament and nature of sages and heroes. A transparent water pot of lovely daffodils on a table corner, a bed or altar is also a popular choice among connoisseurs of flowers in the Tet. Daffodils are beautiful in all their leaves, blossoms and bulbs. They are trimmed and curbed to bloom at the very New Year’s Eve so that good luck will follow the host the entire year. One should also mention simply sparkling gladioluses that brighten modern living rooms. Traditional colors are white, yellow and red and the new ones include purple and green. The host may arrange gladioluses alone or with violets. Lilies, mimosas or liberus are exotic species which are abundant and beautiful.
A new species of French roses is also quite amazing with novel colors and bigger size than domestic roses, but falls short of its fragrance. Roses are abundant, yet still expensive in the Tet. Every household buys roses for this day. Even boiled roosters are made keeping a rose in their beaks. Roses are bringers of happiness, thus in mid- month ceremonies, every family favors roses for sacrifices.
The flowers are rarely grown, perhaps because they bloom so quickly, or their stems are brittle, or few people buy them. However, a vase of flamboyant dahlias in a living room in the Tet also entertains our eyes. Dahlias, snapdragons and many other species are long gone. Now close companions of peach blossoms and kumquats are sparkling and beaming orchid pots. Various species of orchids and cymbidiums of different colors add some novelty. Dalat cymbidiums have grown in popularity, with pots of millions of dongs for richer customers or several hundreds of thousands for middle-class ones.
In addition to fresh flowers, artificial flowers are also on sale as ornaments. Vendor artificial flowers are sold to those with modest budgets and the elderly to present on altars. Luxury artificial flowers in shops look even more beautiful and fascinating than real ones.
Our tastes will dictate what flowers we shall buy for both the Tet and ordinary days. Flowers’ prices vary with sales and weather, but surely life wouldn’t be life without flowers. Home flowers, Tet flowers and real flowers not only adorn this life, but also help us appreciate their beauty and enrich our meaning of life.