Tet is the biggest celebration of the year for the Vietnamese people. Hanoi all but empties as families reunite in their home villages, but that doesn’t stop the remaining city-dwellers from putting on a colourful display at the gorgeous Tet market in Hanoi’s Old Quarter that pops up before the Lunar New Year celebrations.
Tet in Vietnam’s capital
Hanoi’s ancient Old Quarter is a top tourist destination for its charming architecture, Buddhist temples, and long, narrow-styled shop houses. Its uniqueness stems from the fact that the Old Quarter was established during the Ly and Tran dynasties, making it well over 1000 years old. In fact, Hanoi celebrated its millennial in 2010!
Close to Hoan Kiem lake, the Hanoi Opera House, as well as the National Museum of Vietnamese History, the Old Quarter is the perfect place to take in the Hanoian pace of life en route to the many attractions nearby. In the weeks leading up to Tet, however, the Old Quarter transforms into a sea of red and gold as shopkeepers display traditional Vietnamese gifts and decorations to ring in the Lunar New Year.
The Vietnamese believe that red and yellow colours signify luck and bring about good fortune, which is why you’ll see these two colours in abundance before the beginning of the New Year. Vietnamese people also believe that their behaviour on the eve of Tet will determine their luck for the new year, all Vietnamese want to start the new year off on as positive a note as possible to bring good fortune to themselves and their families.
It might not always be possible to have a smiling face in the chilly Hanoian winter, though!
The Year of the Dog has inspired thousands of adorable puppy-themed Tet decorations for 2018.
Many decorations bear the customary Vietnamese new year’s greeting: “Chuc Mung Nam Moi”!
Gifts for family and friends
Elaborate and elegantly designed items pour out of shops and line the streets as vendors eagerly sell decorations to foreigners and locals alike. Vietnamese families and friends normally give gifts to each other over the Tet holiday and many will flock to markets such as these to find suitable gifts for loved ones.
Kumquat trees suddenly pop up everywhere in Vietnam over Tet. These coveted gifts symbolise fruitfulness and fertility in Vietnamese culture.
Hanoi’s crisp winter air is perfumed with the scent of thousands of flowers – another popular gift for loved ones over the holiday.
Dozens of red and gold Chinese lanterns hang over tourists’ and locals’ heads as they peruse crammed aisles within the bustling markets.
Many lanterns feature classic Vietnamese poetry, well-wishes and greetings for a prosperous New Year.
Predicting good fortune
It is believed that the first person to enter a Vietnamese person’s house on Tet will determine that family’s luck and fortune over the year. Some have found a way to circumnavigate the risk and ensure good luck by stepping outside of their homes just a few minutes before midnight, then coming back inside as the clock strikes 12.
Maneki-nekos, known informally as the Japanese cat-waving statue, are lucky charms and talismans believed to bring good luck to the owner, making them popular presents.
Tet markets typically feature some of the same items, such as figurines of the new Zodiac sign, Chinese lanterns, and handcrafted scrolls featuring Vietnamese poetry. The Hanoi Tet market is memorable for its full shelves of classic Vietnamese food and sweets: jams (ginger, coconut, sweet potato, peach), mut (dried-fruit candies), red water lemon seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, salted eastern onions, salted vegetables, banh chung (sticky rice with meat wrapped in leaves), banh giay (white sticky rice cake), and so much more.
The Old Quarter’s unique charm
Saigon is equally as decorated as Hanoi, yet there is something special about browsing Tet markets in the beauty and charm of the Old Quarter. Walking through the antiques, hand-crafted works, poems, lanterns, and paintings has the ability to momentarily transport you to a different time. That is, however, until your gait brings you back to the hectic energy of busy Hanoi that we all know and love.
Sina Abasnejad / © Culture Trip