Vietnamese Lunar New Year Festival

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Tet - shortened form of Tet Nguyen Dan (also known as Vietnamese Lunar New Year or Vietnamese New Year or Tet Holiday) is one of the most important and biggest festivals in Vietnam. Following the Vietnamese lunar calendar, this special holiday - Tet starts at the beginning of a new year. On the Gregorian calendar, this holiday usually has the date falling between January 21st and February 19th.

Vietnamese Lunar New Year

Vietnamese Lunar New Year 2020 quick facts:

• This year, Vietnam's Lunar New Year officially starts from January 25th to January 27th
• Zodiac Sign of 2020: Rat

1. When are Vietnamese Lunar New Year (Tet Holiday) and the zodiac of each year?

Zodiac Tet Holiday

2. What is Tet Holiday (Vietnamese Lunar New Year)?

Tet Nguyen Dan is the full name of Tet and the purpose of this holiday is that Vietnamese would like to thank Gods for the arrival of spring with a great variety of blooming flowers & trees after a harsh and cold winter. This is also the privileged occasion for pilgrims to pagodas and temples and family's members to reunite to celebrate a new year together, hope for a better upcoming year and say farewell to the previous year. Since this is one of the most significant festivals in Vietnam and locals looking for a new year full of prosperity, all the best things are prepared & consumed during Tet holiday.

Tet Holiday Vietnam

3. The Features and how is Tet Holiday celebrated?

3.1 Tet Holiday in Vietnam and Chinese Lunar New Year

Vietnam and China Lunar New Year

People find it easy to have some mistaken views that Vietnamese are celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year, perhaps because of its similarity since both China and Vietnam use the lunar calendar. However, the Vietnamese have many different traditions and customs from China. 

According to the An Nam Chi Luoc (Abbreviated Records of An Nam) written by Le Tac and published for the 1st time in 1335, the Vietnamese usually spent time to paint on themselves, drink traditional rice wine, use areca nut (also referred to as betel nut) which was wrapped in betel leaves to welcome guests and ate salted vegetables. 

Another scholar Le Quy Don also wrote in "Kien Van Tieu Luc" which is a journal that includes miscellaneous stories of Vietnam about history, tradition, culture, geography, procedures and people from 1762 to 1778 that during Ly dynasty, a great variety of different important rituals (e.g., setting up "Dan Phong Van" to pray for the rains, building "Dan Xa Tac - communal houses" to crave for a year of abundant harvests) were made while during Hong Duc period (1442 - 1497), Tet Nguyen Dan is the most important holiday of the year and all the mandarins had to gather to celebrate it with royal families.

3.2 Main periods of Tet Holiday

• Before Tet Holiday, Tet Ong Cong, Ong Tao

Kitchen Gods

Although Tet starts on the 1st day of the Lunar Year, its preparation takes long before that (from the 23rd day of the last Lunar month which is also the day that the "Ông Công - Ông Táo" (Land Genie & Kitchen Gods) ceremony takes place). According to the legend, the Land Genie and these Gods (including two males and one female) will ride carps to heaven to tell Jade Emperor (Ngọc Hoàng) about households' activities on earth. Since the Land Genie and the Gods will make their journey on the backs of fish, it is traditional that Vietnamese release lives carp into either lakes or rivers to pray for good luck. Locals also burn paper clothing (including hats, robes and boots) which are intended for use by the Land Genie and the Gods on their trip to the beyond.

Kitchen Gods and the Land Genie are believed as the first gods leaving earth to heaven, followed by other gods on the next day. Within the absence of all gods, the Vietnamese will start cleaning their houses & decorating them in a beautiful and colourful way with a great range of accessories - this must be done before the New Year's Day. In addition, locals buy and/or prepare exclusive items for Tet Holiday (e.g., Chung cake, candied fruits and seeds). They usually buy mainly foods that can be stored for a long time since all services and stores are closed in Tet Holiday for about 1 or 2 weeks. They also buy new and colourful clothes (avoiding only white and black clothes because these colours represent bad luck), flowers and trees. Besides, before Tet Holiday, everyone will pay all the debt since people believe that remaining debts from one year to another is considered bringing bad lucks to them in the new year. Some families in the rural areas still keep the tradition of displaying Neu Tree to protect them from evils and bad luck. 

• Penultimate New Year's Eve (Tất Niên)

Tat Nien

The penultimate New Year's Eve - Tat Nien occurs on either the 30th or 29th of the last month of the lunar calendar. This is the perfect time for everyone gathering and enjoying the last meal of a year with their families, in which every member will share their happy moments & talks about the good things only. 

• New Year's Eve (Giao Thừa)

Firework Tet Holiday

The young often spend time outside to watch the firework performance with their friends while the adults and elderly stay at home making offerings. Each family will prepare two trays - one is for outdoor worshipping to the Gods or homeless wandering souls and the other for indoor worshipping to the ancestors to pray for a new year of health, prosperity and luck to every family member. For outdoor worshipping, some food is prepared for offerings such as pig head / boiled chicken, salt, betel nut, fruits, rice wine/water and rice while for the tray for ancestors, some offerings are Chung cake, boiled chicken, sticky rice, rice wine, beer and spring rolls.

• The New Year (Tân Niên)

Li Xi

On the 1st day of Tet Holiday, people often stay at home, children will wear colourful clothes and receive a red envelope containing small money which is considered as the lucky money from their elders. This tradition is called "Happy new age" - Mừng tuổi in the north Vietnam & Lì xì in the south. Before receiving the lucky envelope, children usually give their elders the traditional Tet greetings. 

Since everyone believes that the 1st visitor to their houses on this 1st day will determine their fortune for the entire year, people never enter any house without being invited first. This tradition is known as "Xông Đất", "Xông Nhà" or "Đạp Đất" and this is also one of the most important rituals during Tet Holiday. In addition, sweeping during Tet Holiday is taboo, since this action symbolizes sweeping the luck away. Anyone who experienced a recent loss of a close family member also shouldn't visit anyone else during Tet Holiday. 

According to the Vietnamese tradition, "Father's Tet is on the First Day of New Year, Mother's Tet is on the Second, and Teacher is on the Third", it means on the 1st day of New Year, Vietnamese visit their parents on the husband's side, on the 2nd day, they turn to parents on the wife's side and on the 3rd day, they spend time to visit relatives, teachers and friends. Besides, Vietnamese people usually go to pagodas, donate a small of money and pray for lucks and fortune. 

3.3 Main Activities in Tet Holiday

• Shopping

From 25th to 30th on the last month of Lunar Calendar, the Vietnamese will spend much time to visit local markets and buy some main ingredients to make traditional food such as "Lá Dong" - special leave to wrap Chung cake, rice, sticky rice, chicken, fruits, etc. Locals also buy many accessories to decorate the house in a beautiful and colourful way.

• Cleaning and Decorations

+ Mâm Ngũ Qủa - Tray of Five Fruits

Tray of Five fruits

This is fruit basket decoration made for Tet Holiday consisting of five different fruits such as bananas, a pomelo, tangerines, a pineapple and oranges. They can be replaced by some other type of fruits like custard-apple, apples, persimmon and pear. Each region in Vietnam usually choose different fruits but the meaning of the tray is still the same - expressing the wishes of the host family by their names, arrangements and colours.
+ Neu Tree

Neu Tree

As mentioned before, during Tet Holiday, each family will display "Cây Nêu" in front of their houses. This Neu Tree can be a bamboo pole 5 to 6 meters long and is usually decorated with different objects (this will depend on each region) such as votive papers, origami fish, cactus branches, good luck charms, alcohol bottle made of straw and amulet exorcism. This New Tree is considered as one of the important signals for the devils to realize that this house is home of living people, not to harass. 
+ Paintings                   

                            Dong Ho Painting

The Vietnamese usually buy some Dong Ho Paintings and "Thư Pháp" calligraphy pictures to decorate their houses with a small amount of money and its vibrant colours truly bring anyone the feel of Tet Holiday.
+ Trees and Flowers on Tet Holiday

Tree and flowers tet holiday

Two typical flowers for Tet are Peach blossoms in Northern Vietnam and Yellow Apricot blossoms in Southern Vietnam. The Northern people often choose red peach branches to place on altars or decorate their houses since they believe that Peach blossoms have the power to protect them from devils and its flower colour will bring the luck and a prosperous new year to them. 

With the Southern part of Vietnam, since these areas have a tropical climate that is suitable for Yellow Apricot blossoms to sprout every Spring. They also believe the yellow colour of the flower symbolizes the fortune to the owners. 

In addition, in the North or Central Vietnam, locals also buy kumquat tree - a tree is often placed in the living room during Tet Holiday. This kumquat tree is believed to bring fertility & fruitfulness to the owners. 

3.4 The Cuisine of Tet Holiday

The Vietnamese traditional proverb denotes that "Đói giỗ cha, no ba ngày Tết", it means no matter how poor you are, you will need to borrow or manage to have enough to eat for three days of Tet so that elderly people can have soup and young children have new clothes. In addition, despite you can be hungry all year but in Tet, you will be well fed especially small children. Below are some main signature dishes during Tet Holiday:

• Chung Cake

Chung Cake

This is the traditional cake in Vietnam that used to appear on Tet holiday only. However, nowadays, you can find it easy to eat this special food all seasons. The main ingredients to make this cake are glutinous rice, green beans and pork. After adding a bit salt into the glutinous rice, pepper into pork, all ingredients will be wrapped in "Dong Leaves" and boiled overnight (it takes around 8 to 10 hours). Some families also make "Bánh Tét" from the same ingredients but in different shape. According to a legend of Lang Lieu, a prince of the last king of the 6th Hung Dynasty, who became the successor thanks to his Chung cake and Giay cake which symbolized the earth and the sky respectively.  

• Tet Jam

Tet Jam

This is one of the special snacks which is used to welcome guests on Tet Holiday. It is made from many different dried fruits such as coconuts, apples, carrots, tomato, etc. Its sweet taste and colourful colour are believed to bring luck for the New Year.

4. Vietnamese New Year Wishes

                         Vietnam New Year Wishes

The same as the Western greeting during New Year, the Vietnamese also has several ways to offer a greeting to family members, friends and relatives. Two traditional greetings are “Chúc Mừng Năm Mới” (Literally mean Happy New Year) and “Cung Chúc Tân Xuân” (Happy New Spring). The other greeting the Vietnamese usually say is “Vạn Sự Như Ý”. People also wish each other luck and prosperity in the New Year. For more common wishes for Tet Holiday you can use:

Sống lâu trăm tuổi (meaning: Long life of 100 years): Usually used by children for elders especially their grandparents
An khang thịnh vượng (meaning: Good health, prosperity and security): Can be used for friends, relatives and families
Vạn sự như ý (meaning: Everything will be as you wish): Should be used for friends, relatives and families
Sức khỏe dồi dào (meaning: Plenty of health): Usually used by the daughter/son for elders and their parents
Tiền vô như nước (meaning: money flow in like water): Used informally, usually used for friends
Hay ăn chóng lớn (meaning: Eat more, grow rapidly): Used for children

5. Some tips before travelling in Vietnam during Tet Holiday

- You should plan & book your Vietnam Tour & Holidays in advance since it takes time to book hotels, restaurants and transport and there are more choices if book early

- Some tourist sites are closed during Tet Holiday, your travel consultant will choose other alternative sites which still suit your wishes and tastes

- Since bargain during Tet Holiday is considered to bring bad luck to the sellers, try not to bargain, if you have to do, be very politely

6. Travelling in Vietnam during Vietnamese Lunar New Year

Vietnam Lunar New Year Tours

It is a great opportunity to witness one of the most important holidays of Vietnam which reflect the history of Vietnam and its cultural and religious traditions. With a personalized private tour of Inside Travel, you will have plenty of unique experiences (e.g., vibrant cities Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city, memorable Halong Bay Cruises trip), enjoy the long-standing cultures and partake many unforgettable activities (e.g, Hanoi City Tour, Saigon Motorbike Tour and Hue Food Tour with Cyclo) on Tet Holiday. 

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