Vietnamese Tet or Lunar New Year is the biggest celebration of a year in Vietnamese culture. There are several activities taking place during this time to celebrate Vietnamese Tet. In this guide, you will learn what is Tet, several traditions on this occasion, and what to expect from Vietnamese Tet.
Vietnamese Tet or Lunar New Year is the most important celebration of a year, taking place from December 28 to January 3 based on the Chinese Lunisolar calendar. It is also the longest holiday in Vietnam. If the weekends of the week right before and after this week are included, the number of days off for this holiday ranges from seven to ten and usually fall in late January and early February on the Gregorian calendar.
As Vietnam had been dominated by China for about a thousand years, Vietnamese Tet is highly influenced by Chinese New Year culture. Vietnamese Tet, therefore, is celebrated on the same day as Chinese New Year. Besides, according to Chinese Zodiac cycles, 2018 corresponds to the year of the Dog which is said to represent honesty and loyalty. The first day of 2018 falls on February 16, which means the Vietnamese Tet holiday is going to begin on Wednesday, February 14.
Before Mung 1 (The first day of Lunar New Year)
As Tet plays an essential role in Vietnamese cultural beliefs, Vietnamese people often start their preparations for the upcoming year at least a week in advance. People will clean and decorate their houses with flowers, kumquat trees, and peach flowers or yellow apricot blossoms. According to Vietnamese tradition, housework is often avoided during the first three days of the new year to keep the best luck inside the house.
Ancestor graves and altar will be specially taken care of before and during Vietnamese Tet with the belief that Tet is the time for the deceased ancestor’ spirits to return home and celebrate new year's holiday with their families. It is based on the custom of the ancestor cult, which is one of the most popular beliefs among Vietnamese people. Flowers, fruits, and other foods received as gifts on Tet will be placed and offered to the ancestors first. Incense and candles are lit to create a cozy feeling during the new year.
Many Vietnamese also buy “Thu phap” or “Cau doi” (Antithetical couplet) written on red-colored papers from “Ong do” (calligraphy masters) on the streets to decorate their homes. Some families, especially large ones with many members, will gather to make the “Banh chung” (Square sticky rice cake) or “Banh tet” (Cylindrical sticky rice cake), traditional cakes of Vietnamese Tet.
On the night of Giao thua (New Year's Eve)
According to the old tradition, on the night of the New Year's Eve, a Tet banquet should be prepared to welcome the spirit of ancestors to the families and celebrate the New Year. This tradition is still practiced in some families, but there are some others do it on the morning of Mung 1.
A new tradition is watching the fireworks with your families or friends. You can go to the spots where they will fire the fireworks, or you can watch it live broadcast on TV. There is also a new year show called “Tao quan” or “Gap nhau cuoi nam” on TV before the fireworks that many Vietnamese are looking forward to. It is mostly comedy acts summarizing and discussing events happening in the year.
Mung 1, Mung 2, and Mung 3 (First Three Days of Lunar New Year)
In the Vietnamese new year, children often receive lucky money "li xi" kept in red envelopes from their elders. The meaning of this custom is to give children good luck in the new year. To reciprocate, the children usually give their elders tradition greetings for Tet such as wishing them the best luck, great health, and happiness before receiving the lucky money.
In the first three days of Lunar New Year, Vietnamese often visit their friends and family with some new year gifts to exchange. Vietnamese believe that the first day of the year would be for family and relatives on the father’s side, the second day is for the mother’s side and the third day is for teachers. Vietnamese Tet holiday is the time of a year for people to gather together and wish for a better year. Lunar New Year is also the time for Vietnamese to visit their ancestors’ grave, visit temples and pagodas to pray for a good year to come.
Vietnamese people call the act of celebrating Tet holiday “an Tet” which means “eat Tet”, showing the great importance of traditional food in such a celebration. Many kinds of Vietnamese traditional food will be prepared carefully before the Tet holiday. Here are some popular foods in Vietnamese Tet:
Banh Chung and Banh Tet (Sticky rice cake). They are two types of sticky-rice cake, filled with pork fat, pork, mung bean, and wrapped in dong leaves or banana leaves. The main difference between Banh Chung and Banh Tet would be their shapes in which Banh Chung is square, and Banh Tet is cylindrical. Banh Chung and Banh Tet are often used with pickles to enhance the flavor and maintain the balance.
Nem and Gio cha (Vietnamese sausages). Nem or Tre is a raw pork sausage, which made from fermented ground pork mixed with spices like garlic, ginger, and chili. Gio cha is made by pounding meat such as pork or beef until it becomes silky then wrapping the paste in banana leaves and steaming. Vietnamese sausage can be found in several kinds of Vietnamese foods including Banh cuon and Banh mi.
Xoi gac (Red sticky rice). It often appears in Vietnamese weddings, welcoming the lunar new year and many other important occasions. This kind of sticky rice is widely known for its outstanding red color and sweet taste. Vietnamese people especially prefer Xoi gac in their meal during Vietnamese Tet with the belief that the red color will bring them good fortune and happiness.
Thit kho hot vit (Pork braised with eggs). Marinated pork belly and duck eggs are braised in fish sauce and coconut juice to create this dish. The meat and eggs are usually eaten with rice, and you can also use the sauce as a dipping for rice paper rolls like summer spring rolls.
Mang ham (Pork and bamboo shoot stew). Bamboo shoots and pork ribs are stewed until tender, creating a nice light soup to balance with other fatty foods. You can taste a little sweetness coming from the cooked bamboo shoots.
Kho qua don thit (Bitter melon stuffed with ground pork). Besides the bamboo shoots stew, this dish is a nice alternative for a soup. Bitter melons are cut in half and stuffed with ground pork, then cooked for about an hour. Its bitter taste could make people afraid of eating, but once they get used to it, this dish can go without that pungent flavor.
Spring rolls or summer spring rolls. Some of the rolls are freshly made to offer the ancestors, but other rice paper rolls are usually made because there are a lot of cold cuts as well as leftovers in the Tet banquet. The best and simple way to make a new dish is to roll them in the rice paper and dip the rolls in pork braised sauce.
Dua mon and Dua chua (Vegetable pickles). A lot of protein and fat are used in Vietnamese Tet’s traditional foods, so pickles from carrot, daikon, bean sprouts, cabbage, and leeks are used to enhance and balance the flavor. These pickles can be salty (dua mon) or sour (dua chua).
Mam ngu qua (Fruits tray). Some typical fruits on the ancestors’ altar are pomelo, tangerine, banana, mango, sweetsop, papaya, and watermelons. People in the South of Vietnam also play with words of these fruits by placing sweetsop, coconut, papaya, and mango (cau, dua, du, xoai) on the trays because it sounds like “cau vua du xai” which means praying to make enough money to spend in the upcoming year.
Roasted nuts and seeds and candied fruits. These snacks are always available in a Vietnamese special tray which is used to offer visiting guests. There are several types of roasted nuts and seeds including watermelon seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and pistachio. The candied fruits vary from ginger to shredded coconut flesh, kumquat, lotus seeds, and wax gourd. Eating roasted nuts and seeds while chatting can create a cheerful environment between the hosts and the guests.
So this is the basics of what you should know about Tet, but what to expect from Vietnamese Tet as a foreigner? Click on the link to find out the best places to visit on Vietnamese Tet 2018.
Many stores and restaurants are closed during Tet holiday. And why only the restaurants open sell only vegetarian food?