Tet Nguyen Dan or Tet is the most important and popular holiday and festival in Vietnam. It is the Vietnamese New Year marking the arrival of spring based on the Lunar calendar, a lunisolar calendar. The name Tet Nguyen Dan is Sino-Vietnamese for Feast of the very First Morning.
Tet takes place from the first day of the first month of the Lunar calendar (around late January or early February) until at least the third day. Many Vietnamese prepare for Tet by cooking special holiday foods and cleaning their house. There are a lot of customs practiced during Tet such as visiting a person’s house on the first day of the new year (xông nhà), ancestral worship, wishing New Year’s greetings, giving lucky money to children and elderly people and opening a shop.
Tet festival 2021 is on February 12th, 2021 (New Year Eve is the previous day).
What is Tet Holiday
Tet is also an occasion for pilgrims and family reunions. During Tet, Vietnamese visits their relatives and temples, forgetting the troubles of the past year and hoping for a better upcoming year. They consider Tet to be the first day of spring and the festival is often called Hội xuân (spring festival).
Like other Asian countries, Vietnamese believe that the color of red and yellow will bring good fortune, which may explain why these colors can be seen everywhere in Lunar New Year. People consider what they do on the dawn of Tet will determine their fate for the whole year, hence people always smile and behave as nice as they can in the hope for a better year.
The Features on Tet Holiday
Vietnamese Lunar New Year is NOT Chinese Lunar New Year
It is absolutely mistaken to say that the Vietnamese are celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year. Although both countries use the lunar calendar, Vietnamese people have different lunar new year customs, celebrations, and traditions from China.
The History of Vietnamese Lunar New Year
According to the historical document, in the thirteenth century, Vietnamese people often celebrated Tet holiday by painting on themselves, drinking traditional glutinous-rice wine, using betel nuts to welcome guests, and eating Chung cake, pickled onions. In the Ly dynasty (1009-1226), many important rituals were made on Tet festival such as setting up a dome to pray for the rains or building communal houses to crave for a year of abundant harvests. In the period of King Le Thanh Tong (1442-1497), Tet was the most important festival and hundreds of mandarins had to gather at the court to celebrate this lunar new year festival with royal families.
Foods for Vietnamese Lunar New Year
In the Vietnamese language, to celebrate Tet also means to eat, which affirmed the important role of Vietnam Lunar New Year’s Food. One Vietnamese traditional proverb denotes that you can be hungry all year except three days of Tet festival because dozens of delicious dishes and desserts will be prepared on Lunar New Year in Vietnam to feast the ancestors as well as every family member.
Vietnamese Chung Cake for Tet holiday
Chung cake is the traditional cake in Vietnam that only appears on Tet holiday. Tasty and savory Chung cake is made from very familiar ingredients to all Vietnamese such as sticky rice, green beans, and pork, which is wrapped in green leaves and boiled overnight. According to a legend that has been passed on for thousands of generations, Chung cake is the symbol of Earth because it combines all unique ingredients of Vietnamese agriculture. Although nowadays Chung cake can be tasted all seasons, enjoying these cakes at Tet holiday still brings special feelings for Vietnamese people.
Vietnamese Jam for Tet holiday
Jam is the common snack to welcome guests on Tet holiday. It is mainly made from dried fruits like carrots, coconuts, apples, or some kinds of seeds such as roasted watermelon seeds, sunflower seeds mixed with sugar. The Vietnamese believe eating sweet things on Tet holiday will bring them luck for the Lunar New Year.
Vietnamese Pickled Onions
On Tet holiday, people often eat fat and oiled foods which easily cloys their appetite. This is high time for something with low calories and fresh like pickled onions. Pickled onions help the digestive system digest high protein food more easily. In the minds of Vietnamese people, Tet is only complete when there are fat meat, pickled onions, and red distiches.
Besides, there is a myriad of signature dishes that inspire the taste in different regions on Vietnamese Lunar New Year such as spring rolls, boiled chickens, Vietnamese sausages, sticky rice, and so on.
Mascots of Vietnamese Lunar New Year
Vietnamese Zodiac Signs
Each Lunar New Year will have a symbolic animal. 12 Vietnamese zodiac signs are different from Chinese ones (The fourth zodiac sign in Vietnam is Cat while it is Rabbit in China). Every animal will bring the unique lucky in its year so you can see them everywhere in Vietnam through Tet holiday decorations or advertisement signs. Tet holiday 2021 is the year of the Buffalo.
Trees & Flowers
Peach blossom in Northern Vietnam and apricot blossom trees in Southern Vietnam are also symbols that exclusively appear on Tet holiday. The light red of peach blossom will bring the luck while the yellow of apricot blossom will bring the fortune to the owners. It is said that Tet Vietnam will lose itself if missing two of them.
It is originally a 5 meters tall bamboo shoot. The chop of the tree hangs different things based on each region such as votive papers, amulet exorcism, or alcohol bottle made of straw. It is believed that the appearance of Neu tree on Tet holiday in Vietnam is the signal for the devils to realize that this place is home to living people, not to harass.
Tray of Five Fruits
This is a tray of five different fruits such as bananas, grapefruits, oranges, and other tropical fruits which are only prepared on the Vietnamese New Year. Although each region chooses different fruits, a tray of five fruits is still used to express the wishes for the Lunar New Year of the host family by their names, colors, and arrangements.
In addition, kumquat trees, Dong Ho paintings, red distiches are also believed by the Vietnamese to bring luck and wealth for them all around the year.
How Vietnamese prepare for Lunar New Year
Tet Ong Cong, Ong Tao (Gods & Goddess of Kitchen)
On the 23rd of the last month in the lunar calendar, Vietnamese people prepare the traditional offerings and especially the carps to regale the gods and goddesses living at their house all over the year. Then they will release the carps into the river so they will be used by the Gods as the transportations to come to heaven, according to the legend. At heaven, they will report everything happening all around the year of their family to the King of heaven. They will come back on the last day of the year to celebrate Tet holiday with the host. The carps then become the dragons. Tet Ong Cong, Ong Tao of Tet holiday 2021 is on February 4th.
Cleaning & Decorating the House
Tet holiday is also called by a jolly name “house-cleaning festival”. A week before Tet festival, all members of the family clean the house, the garden, the altars, do Tet holiday decorations. Broken things will be repaired, old things will be replaced. Clothes and decorations such as lanterns, distiches, led lights will be bought. All those preparations have the same purpose – to be the best to welcome the Lunar New Year festival and to receive luck as well as fortune.
The Last Day of the Year & Lunar New Year Eve
On the last day of the year, every member of different generations gathers around a grand banquet to enjoy the last meal of the year. The talk at that time is about things already happening in the year. The ambiance of the reunion is always the most wonderful and happiest at all.
In Lunar New Year Eve, the young often go out to watch the Tet holiday firework performance while the elderly and adults stay at home making offerings of pig head, boiled chicken, rice, and salt for outdoor worshipping to the Gods and indoor one to the ancestors. They will pray for a new year of luck, health, and fortune to every family member.
After that, the young return home and become the first one to come to the house in the lunar new year. It is believed that the wishes of that person for the host will come true. Then everyone gathers again to drink some alcohol or juice. Then the wishes, as well as plans of every person for the new year, will be shared with others.
During Tet Holiday – Vietnamese Lunar New Year Traditions & Customs
Lunar New Year in Vietnam traditionally lasts for three days. People often stay at home to welcome guests to their house or go to their relative and neighborhood houses. The elderly will be received the Tet holiday’s gifts and wishes for health, the adults will be received the ones for fortune and success while the young and children will be received lucky money. Laughs and talks appear everywhere on Tet holiday these days. Besides, Vietnamese people often go to pagodas. By donating money and asking for letters, they will receive several lucks and fortune.
Vietnamese New Year Wishes & Greetings
Tet festival is the main holiday in Vietnam. Therefore, Vietnamese people will give each other the best wishes for the lucky and successful Lunar New Year. Below are some of Tet holiday greetings and wishes with the meanings in English.
- Chuc Mung Nam Noi: Happy Vietnam Lunar New Year
- An Khang Thinh Vuong: Wish you are always safe and sound, wealthy, and prosperity.
- Van Su Nhu Y: All your wishes will come true.
- Tan Tai Tan Loc: Wish you a new year of fortune.
Festivals & Activities after Tet Holiday
Tet Vietnam ends when votive papers are burned and offerings are taken down from the altars to share for every family member. It is the time for people to join in festivals all around the country after Vietnamese Lunar New Year such as buffalo fighting festival or boat racing, wrestling, lion or dragon dances. Festivals will be organized for a month after Tet holiday so you are able to attend and explore them as many as possible.
To talk about Tet Holiday, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year is the priceless value of Vietnam and an indispensable part of the life of all Vietnamese people. Plan Vietnam tours to enjoy Tet holiday and experience unforgettable experiences of Vietnamese cultures, customs, and traditions.