Tet Nguyen Dan (Tet for shortening) or Lunar New Year in English is the most important holiday in Vietnam. Tet is the Vietnamese New Year which marks the arrival of spring based on the Lunar calendar, a lunisolar calendar. ’Tet Nguyen Dan’ means the Feast of the very First Morning.
What is Tet Holiday?
Tet is from the first day of the first month in the Lunar calendar (it’s around late January or early February) until at least the third day. There have a lot of Vietnamese people preparing for Tet by cooking traditional foods and cleaning their house. There is a myriad of customs practiced during the Tet holiday such as visiting the relatives’ or friends’ house on the first day of the new year, in Vietnamese we call Xông Nhà, visiting ancestral worship, wishing New Year’s greetings, giving the lucky money to children and elderly people and it’s even a good opportunity to open a shop. Tet is a family reunion when people go back after a long time working far from home.
During Tet, people first visit temples to pray for luck for the whole new year, forgetting the troubles of the past year and hoping for a better upcoming year, then visit the relatives for wishing them the best of luck. Like other Asian countries, Vietnamese people believe that red and yellow are two-lucky color which will bring good fortune, that also why these colors can be seen everywhere in Tet. Asian people consider what they do on the dawn of Tet will determine their fate for the whole year, thus people always smile and behave as nice as they can with the hope for a better year.
Tet or Lunar New Year in the three regions in Vietnam can be divided into three periods, they are Tất Niên (before New Year’s Eve), the preparation before Tet; Giao Thừa (New Year’s Eve), and Tân Niên (the New Year) – the days following Tet. Although Lunar New Year is a national holiday, a traditional festival, each region and religion have its own customs. However, all of these customs are to celebrate Tet in Vietnam.
Before New Year’s Eve
This period begins from one or two weeks before the holiday. The general atmosphere leading up to Tet is in the bustling shops, flower markets, local markets where people come to buy the myriad of things for Tet. People try to pay all their debts in advance so that they can be debt-free on Tet. Parents buy new clothes for their beloved children so that they can wear them when Tet arrives.
In the days leading up to Tet, the streets and markets are full of people. Because the shops will be closed during Tet, people are busy buying food, clothes, and decorations for their house. The family altar is an indispensable thing in any Vietnamese house, it’s the way to pay respect to their ancestors. Vietnamese people have a tray of five different fruits on their altar called “Ngũ Quả” (five kinds of fruits). During Tet, the altar is cleaned and new offerings are placed there. Traditionally, the Kitchen Gods (Ông Táo), three kitchen guardians for each house, return to heaven on the 23rd day of the 12th month in the lunar calendar to give his annual report to the Jade Emperor. The departure is marked by a modest ceremony where the family offers sacrifices for them to use on their journey.
Before Tet, each family cook special traditional foods such as bánh chưng and bánh dầy. Preparations of these foods are quite extensive. After the making process, family members often take turns to keep watching on the fire overnight, telling others the stories about Tet of the past. In the Tet holiday, one of the cannot-miss food is Mut (Candied fruits). Mut is not served in the meals but a snack to welcome guests visiting the house and it’s always kept in beautiful boxes and placed at the table in the living room.
The New Year (During Tet)
The first day of a new year is reserved for the nuclear family. Children wear new beautiful clothes, give the elders the traditional Tet greetings before receiving the lucky money from them.
Some popular greetings in Tet of Vietnamese people
The traditional greetings are “Chúc Mừng Năm Mới” (Happy New Year) and “Cung Chúc Tân Xuân” (gracious wishes for the new spring). People often wish each other prosperity and luck. Common wishes for Tết consist of:
- Sống lâu trăm tuổi (long life of 100 years): used by children for elders. It might be a nice tradition and also a custom in Vietnam that children or the young would wish their grandparents or the older health and longevity.
- An khang thịnh vượng (security, good health, and prosperity)
- Vạn sự như ý (may myriad things go according to your will)
- Sức khỏe dồi dào (Plenty of health)
- Cung hỉ phát tài (congratulations and be prosperous)
- Tiền vô như nước (many money flows in like water): used informally
Vietnamese people believe that the first person who visits a family in the year determines their fortune for the entire year, a person of good temper, morality, and success will be the lucky sign for the host and be invited first into the house. This kind of special activity is called xông đất or xông nhà, which is one of the most important rituals during Tet. According to the tradition of Vietnam, if the good things come to your family on the first day, the entire following year will also be full of blessings. Sweeping during the first three-day in Tet is taboo since it may mean that you sweep all the luck away. It’s also a taboo you should note that a family who underwent a recent loss should not visit other houses during Tet.
During subsequent days, people visit relatives and friends, have some new year party, meeting, enjoy the holiday. Traditionally but not strictly, the second day at Tet is usually reserved for friends & social relationships, while the third day is for teachers, who are heavily respected in Vietnam. Local Buddhist pagodas are popular places where people like to give donations and to get their fortunes told during Tet.
Decorations at Tet Holiday in Vietnam
Depending on which region you are staying in. If you live in North Vietnam, some peach blossom trees, kumquat trees, and orange trees are these must-have things in Tet. But you are a Saigonian, apricot flower will replace for peach blossom trees. In the north or central Vietnam, the kumquat tree is a popular decoration for the living room during Tet. Its fruits symbolize the fertility and fruitfulness that the family hopes for in the new year. They plant these flowers and put them into beautiful pots in front of or inside the house.
Above all, time to Tet is counting down, so if you want to experience this extremely special event at least once in your life, just pack up your luggage and reserve a Lunar New Year trip in Vietnam!