Red and yellow decorations for Tet, Vietnamese New Year
Red and yellow decorations for Tet, Vietnamese New Year

Tet – Vietnamese Lunar New Year – Year of The Buffalo

Tet is the most important festival and celebration of the Vietnamese people. It’s the shortened version of the name Tet Nguyen Dan which in translation means “the first morning of the first day of the New Year”. Though it is so much more than just a one day celebration. It lasts for almost two weeks and you can think of it as Christmas, New Years, Birthdays and other holidays bunched up into one big celebration. Everyone also celebrates their birthday on this day, so don’t be surprised if someone wishes you a happy birthday!

When is Tet?

Vietnamese follow the lunar calendar, and as such, the date differs every year. According to it, Tet falls on the first night of the first month’s new moon. It falls somewhere between 20th January and 20th February in the Gregorian calendar. This year it was on the 12th of February.

The preparations start weeks before, while the highlight is a few days before the holiday itself. Tet is also the longest holiday in Vietnam. The celebrations officially last from seven up to nine days, although depending on how long people want to celebrate, they can be even longer in practice.

What is the meaning behind Tet?

Tet marks the new year and the arrival of spring according to the lunisolar calendar, and as such, it is often referred to as the Spring Festival, a name also used in other countries.

What is the connection between animals and Tet?

Vietnamese believe in a complex Zodiac system, including animals, Ying and Yang, the elements, and astronomical symbols.

All these depend on the time that you were born, depending even on the century itself. In combination, they determine your personality and the amount of luck you have in your life.

In the Vietnamese calendar, each year is assigned one of the 12 animals of the Zodiac. 2020 was the year of the Rat, and 2021 is the year of the Ox or Buffalo.

Previous and upcoming Tet dates

How is it celebrated?

Tet is mostly celebrated amongst families as it is also a family holiday, where those that moved away come back to the family home to be with their loved ones. It’s the happiest time of the year.

Essential parts of celebration

  • Colorful decorations, most colored red and yellow
  • Blossoming flowers and trees
  • Feasts of traditional Vietnamese food
  • Visiting relatives
  • Playing games
  • Shows upon shows
  • Crafts and art activities

What traditions take place during Tet?

There are some interesting traditions that take place during Tet.

Paying all your debts
People try to pay off all their debts to go into the new year debt-free.

Cleaning the house
Everything gets properly cleaned and fixed up in the time before Tet. It symbolizes removing old things and bad luck, welcoming the New Year’s fortunes.

Man cleaning house before Tet, Vietnamese New Year

Family, family, family (dead and alive)
Family means more than just the living one, as ancestors are also invited to join with meals and offerings placed on the family altar.

Mother and child preparing offerings during Tet, Vietnamese New Year

Tet tree
Bringing a blossoming tree or flowers into your household represents new life and good fortune.

Yellow chrysanthemum placed in the living room before Tet, Vietnamese New Year

Lucky money!
Money is given to children in a red envelope as a wish of luck and everything good in the new year.

Red envelopes used for gifting children money, found on a market before Tet, Vietnamese New Year

Preparing and eating traditional Tet food
Traditional Vietnamese dishes are prepared and eaten during Tet.

Cooked chicken prepared for Tet, Vietnamese New Year

Smile brighter
The first interactions of the new year set the scene for the year to come. Smile brighter, have fun, and be nicer for a peaceful and prosperous new year.

Ha Giang woman and child smiling

Symbols of Tet

This is the time when you can see the importance of symbolism in Vietnam. From the flowers and trees to the colors and decorations, to the offerings, gifting, and burning, everything has a meaning and plays an important role in Tet.

A good combination of all the correct symbols helps bring people health, good luck, and prosperity in the new year.

Why is everything in red and yellow?

The traditional red and yellow colors symbolize wealth and good fortune. They are present everywhere, on banners, decorations, trinkets, and also flowers that you see. Some even paint their vehicles in these two colors.

Decorations on a Nha Trang street market before Tet, Vietnamese New Year

What are offerings?

During Tet, offerings are made to the gods and the ancestors. The gods are worshiped outside and the ancestors inside the house. The ancestors are also invited to join the family for a meal, placed as an offering on the altar. Burning symbolizes the transition of the items from the current world (Yang) to the ancestors in the afterlife (Yin). Fake money and paper models of things are usually burned to bring them wealth and comfort.

Table full of offerings before Tet, Vietnamese New Year
Burning ritual during offerings before Tet, Vietnamese New Year

Flowers and plants of Tet

Bringing a blossoming tree into your household represents new life and good fortune. Usually, these are the yellow apricot blossoms in the south and the north’s pink peach blossoms. The kumquat trees are also bought for decorating the living rooms as symbols of fruitfulness, health, and good luck. A pot of beautiful yellow chrysanthemum is also believed to symbolize life.

Gifting tradition in Vietnam

Maintaining a close relationship between people is an important part of Vietnamese culture. This is emphasized even more during Tet with gifts, which symbolize good wishes and bring joy and luck.

Children also receive money in a red envelope as a wish of luck and everything good in the new year.

Gifts being sold for Tet, Vietnamese New Year

Streets during Tet

Tet is VERY colorful, and through the weeks leading up to it, Vietnam transforms into a lively scene.

The streets are full of artwork and symbolic carvings done by professional craftsmen and craftswomen. You can find scenes like this and more in all the big cities.

Make sure to check out all the flowers. There are loads of them on the main streets of all cities.

Traditional food prepared for Tet

Many unique dishes are prepared for welcoming the new year. This includes some of the old traditional dishes from the times of no refrigerators. At that time, everything had to be either pickled or wrapped/conserved to last during the days of celebration, as most places with fresh food are closed.

Bánh Chưng (chưng cakes) is the dish that embodies the spirit of the Vietnamese New Year. The square shape represents the earth (once believed to be a square), the fillings of vegetables and meat represent all living beings on earth and green leaves that cover it, representing the parents’ care for their children.

Among others, some of the important and essential dishes are Thit ga (chicken), Xôi gấc (red sticky rice), Hạt dưa (melon seeds), Dưa hành (pickled onions), Giò (Vietnamese sausage) and Thịt đông (frozen meat).

Special fruits found during Tet

Stores and street vendors sell some funky looking fruit during this time. The most “normal” out of them all are the different colored, and the carved out watermelons. You can also find some funny looking pineapple and a finger fruit called Buddha’s hands.

Funny looking finger fruit, buddha's hands during Tet, Vietnamese New Year

What to know as a tourist during Tet

The most important part of Tet is family. This means that most Vietnamese that live away from their childhood home come back to join their family for celebration.

As a large number of Vietnamese travel home, finding free space on any transportation is a very difficult task.

You shouldn’t have a problem with booking accommodation as it’s not a time for leisure travel for Vietnamese. Keep in mind that it will be a bit more expensive, as this is the season after all.

On the first few days of the new year the museums, art galleries and some businesses are also closed. Shopping is also limited, so try and do all of these before Tet or after the first few days of the new year.

This might also not be the best time for culinary exploration, but you do get the chance to try some of the traditional dishes prepared during this time.

What you SHOULD DO during Tet

Buy new clothes
It is believed new clothes, especially those in red and yellow or blue, bring good luck and prosperity.

End the old and start the new year with a smile. It will bring joy and happiness to you and others around you.

Give out gifts
Gifting-exchanging is a big part of the Vietnamese culture, and doing so will enhance your relationships even further.

What you SHOULD NOT DO during Tet

Don’t sweep the house on the first day of the new year, as it means you are sweeping all the good things out.

Argue or shout
You should avoid arguing at this time as it will set a bad mood for the new year.

Be cruel
Following the principles of Buddhism, you should do good deeds. One of those is not killing animals and setting them free. This is often done with birds.

Wear black
Wear something colorful to symbolize life, not black to symbolize death.

Chúc mừng năm mới 2021!


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