Each year, Vietnam takes two weeks off and celebrates the Lunar New Year. Vietnam’s biggest cities virtually shut down as citizens begin a mass exodus to their home villages to ring in the New Year with their families and participate in traditional customs meant to bring about health and prosperity for the year ahead.
Tet, shortened from “Tet Nguyen Dan” (roughly translated into “Feast of the Morning of the First Day”), is the most important holiday in Vietnamese culture. During Tet, families prepare special foods such as ban chung (sticky rice with meat wrapped in leaves), mut (dried, candied fruits), and dried young bamboo soup. It is also tradition for them to scrub their homes clean to start the year off right, but not too much – sweeping, especially on New Year’s Day, is quite taboo. It is thought that by sweeping, you essentially sweep away good luck!
Another ancient tradition is that of burnt offerings to deceased loved ones. These days, Vietnamese often buy fake dollar bills to offer their ancestors, potentially dropping some serious real cash on the fakes – up to $200 USD!
Flowers also play a large role during Tet celebrations. Peach blossoms and kumquat trees are favoured decorations in northern and central Vietnam, while yellow apricot blossoms, or hoa mai, are more popular in the South. Kumquat trees are particularly coveted as they symbolise fertility and fruitfulness, bringing about prosperity for the family in the New Year.
Gift-giving is also customary during Tet. Family and friends usually visit each other during the New Year, bearing gifts and “lucky money” for children and elders. You will never hear a Vietnamese person speaking of anything negative during this time; it is considered to bring about misfortune during the new year. Instead, family and friends will only be upbeat and positive. Tet brings out the optimist in everyone!
Ban chung for sale in the streets of Hanoi.
It is also very common for Vietnamese to debut a new look during Tet. Beauty parlours and hair salons are often booked solid for at least two weeks before the new year; everyone wants to look their best and start off the new year with a fresh look or new hairstyle.
Tet is a wonderful time of the year. The Vietnamese all focus on being super positive and you are more than likely to encounter plenty of well-wishes of “Chuc Mung Nam Moi!” (Happy New Year in Vietnamese). The government installs impressive decorations throughout the major cities. Here, you can see a brief snapshot into some of these decorations on the streets of Hanoi.
“Lucky money” is usually given to children, elders, and teachers during Tet. Teachers are deeply respected in Vietnamese culture and all lucky money is given in beautifully hand-decorated red envelopes, bearing the Tet colours of red and gold.
Thousands of beautiful lanterns adorn shops throughout Vietnam.
Several cities throughout Vietnam also showcase an impressive fireworks display to celebrate the beginning of a new year.
After Tet, it is customary for the first visitor to a family’s house to determine the luck and good fortune awaiting that family. Cleverly enough, some people actually leave their homes a few minutes past midnight and enter again as the clock strikes 12, preventing anyone else from bringing bad luck to the house.
Thousands of Vietnamese also flock to temples and pagodas, praying to their ancestors for good fortune, and, of course, to take tons of pictures among the beautiful flowers and decorations.
Chuc Mung Nam Moi everyone, and may this Year of the Dog bring you health, happiness and prosperity!