Tet is the most important festival of the Vietnamese calendar. It marks the beginning of the lunar new year. Festivities occur throughout the country, but this is a family holiday and many of the traditions of observance occur in the home. The official holiday lasts three days, but celebrations continue for at least the first month of the new year.
Before The New Year
Preparations begin about a week before the new year. Homes are cleaned out in the hopes of getting rid of the past year’s bad luck, and some families go so far as to repaint their house’s exterior. It also is believed to be lucky to buy new clothes and get a fresh haircut. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, Vietnamese families conduct the ritual Le Tru Tich, which involves gongs, firecrackers and other noisy items to chase out the old year and ring in the new.
New Year’s Day Traditions
On New Year’s Day, most families meet to exchange gifts and have a traditional meal, and also perform a ceremony to appease the kitchen god. Homes are decorated with the hoa mai flower and all thoughts of sadness are supposed to be avoided. Children are encouraged not to fight or cry and anyone in mourning is shunned because it is bad luck to be associated with death on New Year’s Day. Many families plant a new year’s tree in front of the house and wrap it with lucky red paper. The tree is removed at the end of the first week of the new year. After the family meal, many Vietnamese attend the local pagoda to worship ancestors.
In The Cities
In major cities, such as Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, Tet celebrations are more similar to new year celebrations in western countries. People attend events in dance clubs and bars. This is a time of enjoyment and there is a lot of eating and drinking involved in the celebrations. Fireworks are set off to scare away the evil spirit Na A. Stores and neighborhoods decorate with colored lights and red banners.
Food is an important part of the Tet celebrations. The Vietnamese believe that what a person does on New Year’s Day dictates the course of the rest of the year, and eating a lot represents the hope that no one will go hungry in the coming year. In the days leading up to the holiday, the Vietnamese traditionally give gifts of food to family members and friends. The traditional meal includes foods such as bang, a bamboo and pork soup; bang chung, a sticky rice cake filled with pork and beans; and orange sticky rice. Even the ancestors are given food gifts. Families leave a five fruit tray at the altar.
Things To Know
With the exception of the hospitality industry, most businesses close down for the entire week of Tet celebrations. Because the holiday is an important time for Vietnamese families to spend time together, travel in Vietnam is as hectic as Christmas travel is in many other parts of the world. Any travel plans within the country must be arranged well in advance. Since most of the celebration takes place in the homes of friends and family, visitors might feel left out for most of the week unless they have close friends or family in Vietnam.
You can also read our tips on travelling to Vietnam during Tet here.