Tet Holiday, or Lunar New Year, is the most important festival in Vietnam. Tet is the time for a family reunion, so people visit their family, preparing and enjoying the Tet holiday together.
Do you know what to do on Tet Holiday? Read on to find traditional things to do on the Tet holiday in Vietnam.
“Refreshing” the house
Tet is the time for new things. Vietnamese usually spend half of the month before the Tet holiday to prepare for it.
Cleaning the house before Tet is one of Vietnam’s most important cultural features. Housecleaning before Lunar New Year helps organize the old year, removing old things to remove bad luck and welcome New Year’s fortunes.
Repainting the house, washing mattresses and pillows, trimming trees neatly, etc., can make the house look refreshed and beautiful.
According to Vietnamese culture, lucky fortune will visit the clean, neat, and tidy houses on the first days of the year. Therefore, the owners must finish cleaning their homes at the end of the year before the 23rd, which is the day Ông Táo (The Kitchen God) goes back to heaven.
Also, housecleaning makes the owners feel confident when relatives and friends visit. The guests themselves will feel more valuable and respected when invited.
Vietnamese people love decorating their houses on the Tet holiday. Lunar New Year is an occasion for members to prepare new items and furniture to welcome a full Tet and a fortune year.
It’s also essential to buy flowers to decorate at home. In the north of Vietnam, Northern Vietnamese usually buy Peach Blossom trees, while people place Ochna trees in their houses in the South.
There are many criteria to evaluate how good an Ochna tree is. People usually assess them based on the number of flowers, the shape of flowers, and the root shape.
“The more beautiful the Ochna tree is, the luckier the family receives on New Year,” – My mom said.
Tet is the time for changes. Vietnamese usually try to “remake” themselves by cutting hair, buying new clothes, shoes, etc. Everyone wants to look better on the Tet holiday.
Making traditional Vietnamese cake – Banh Chung and Banh Tet
Tet is the time for tradition. Folding Traditional cake – Banh Chung, Banh Tet is a Vietnamese tradition that started from 18th Hung Vuong King.
On the 28th – 29th of the Tet Holiday, Vietnamese families often gather and make Banh Chung (square glutinous rice cake) and Banh Tet to enjoy and give to others.
It’s quite challenging to make these traditional cakes, so the makers must be skillful enough to wrap them beautifully and tightly. Otherwise, the cakes will crack and absorb water.
Nowadays, not many families make Banh Chung, Banh Tet anymore, but everyone still eats it.
Worshiping the ancestors
Preparing dishes to worship the ancestors has become a significant activity on the 30th of Tet Holiday.
This beautiful tradition reminds people about their ancestors’ memories and their merits.
In the early morning, the family members prepare the altar and dishes to “invite” their ancestors to come back and celebrate Tet together.
By doing this, Vietnamese people can show respect to their ancestors. Tet banquet becomes the invisible link between the living and the dead.
New Year Eve’s ceremony
New Year’s Eve is the connection time between two years, and it’s time to prepare the altar and traditional dishes to worship the gods.
At the end of the year, old gods give up work for new gods at the transfer between the new year and the past year. Therefore, Vietnamese people celebrate New Year’s Eve to see the old god and welcome the new gods.
People usually prepare the feast to celebrate New Year’s Eve in the middle of the courtyard. The dishes include five-fruit tray – Cầu (Custard-apple), Dừa (Coconut), Đủ (Papaya), Xoài (Mango), and Dưa hấu (Watermelon).
Tasting Vietnamese traditional food
Tet is the best time to try traditional Vietnamese food. Banh Chung, Banh Tet, and pig trotters stewed with dried bamboo shoots are the main dishes.
Pickled onion, small pickled leeks, roasted watermelon seeds, and dried candied fruits are essential side dishes to try in every house.
Watching Tet’s TV series
Some special TV series are only available on Tet Holiday, and families usually sit together and enjoy them.
One of the most popular series is Tao Quan – The Kitchen Gods, a yearly comedy series. It reports the main issues in Vietnam in that fiscal year with a good sense of humor.
You can see the fireworks at many places in Vietnam.
Many families drive their scooters to main attractions, waiting there beforehand to see the fireworks. The roads are crowded, so it creates an exciting atmosphere.
Tet is the time for family. Despite how far they live, Vietnamese people always try their best to return home for a family reunion.
Family members usually gather together at the main house, or they will go around and visit their relatives and friends. People often organize the Tet banquet during these reunions, and of course, there will be a lot of drinking and eating.
Visiting people is a unique and indispensable culture on the Tet holiday, showing the kindness and joy of spring. When visiting, everyone is dressed in beautiful clothes, usually with a red meaning, and brings gifts to celebrate with the owner.
Receiving lucky money – Lì xì
Lucky money is, as its name, a gift from one person to another to wish them a Happy New Year. Lucky money is often placed in a red envelope, as red equals “lucky” in Vietnamese culture.
Usually, kids receive lots of lucky money, and they will need to wish the giver best wishes.
These wishes changes based on the giver, but overall, “Health, Happiness, Luck & Prosperity” are the main components. More specifically, if grandparents give lucky money to their grandkids, the kids will say wishes for health.
If kids receive money from people who are still working, they will give wishes for jobs and money instead.
Anyone who is not married will still receive lucky money. Also, the younger give the elderly lucky money to wish for good health.
Visiting pagodas and temples
Vietnamese usually visit pagodas on the Tet holiday with the desire to find peace, dismiss the anxieties and worries of the old year, and wish for luck and happiness in the new year.
Visiting a pagoda is not only to make a wish, but it is also a moment in which one is immersed in spirituality. People try to visit Pagoda after New Year’s Eve or the first days of Lunar New Year.
Although both genders can visit pagodas, women visit them more often than men.
The smell of incense smoke, the beauty of flowers, and the peace of the atmosphere will make people feel more peaceful during New Year.
Receiving Parallel and Calligraphy pictures
Vietnamese people have traditions to receive parallel and Calligraphy photos from the Master (ông Đồ) on Tet Holiday.
When Vietnamese people go to the Tet market, they usually go through the market gate and ask for the Master, who gives a parallel sentence or a single word.
They often ask for the word or parallel to worship, hoping that their children will become good people when they grow up. The most popular terms are Tâm (Kindness), Phúc (Luck), Đức (Virtue), An (Peace), Lộc (Money), etc.
Here is a poem about Ông Đồ – the Master (English version below)
Mỗi năm hoa đào nở
Lại thấy ông đồ già
Bày mực tàu giấy đỏ
Bên phố đông người qua.
Bao nhiêu người thuê viết
Tấm tắc ngợi khen tài
“Hoa tay thảo những nét
Như phượng múa rồng bay”.
Nhưng mỗi năm mỗi vắng
Người thuê viết nay đâu?
Giấy đỏ buồn không thắm;
Mực đọng trong nghiên sầu…
Ông đồ vẫn ngồi đấy,
Qua đường không ai hay,
Lá vàng rơi trên giấy;
Ngoài giời mưa bụi bay.
Năm nay đào lại nở,
Không thấy ông đồ xưa.
Những người muôn năm cũ
Hồn ở đâu bây giờ?
Peach blossoms bloomed every spring
There again, the old master came
With red paper and black ink
On the street, where the people claimed
They claimed to buy his writings,
And all praised him while buying
“Just a mere move of his hand
Turns strokes into a phoenix dance!”
But fewer buyers came each year
Admirers, where did they go…?
Unused ink laid like black tears;
Red paper dulled in sorrow
That old master just sat there
Among those who did not care.
On the dull red fallen dead leaves;
There fell soft rain with slight grief.
Another peach blossoms’ spring
Yet, the old master is not there.
Oh, where are they wandering
Old folks’ souls, we all forgot?
“Vuong Thu Trang translated the Master” in 2011, when she was a junior high school student (8th grader), with some edits by Prof. Nancy K. Napier. Trang is now a student at Sciences Po Paris, studying international relations and political sciences, with a Central European orientation.
Playing cards & Bingo
Tet is the time to try out your luck! From Bingo to cards, these folk games become an integral part of the Tet holiday. It makes the atmosphere more cheerful and enjoyable.
Visiting flower markets
Tet is the time to wander! The streets are charming with all the decorations and flower markets, so people usually hang out and observe these beauties.
It’s common to have some professional photoshoots at these flower markets too.
Things NOT to do on Tet Holiday
Here is the list of things you shouldn’t do on Tet Holiday.
- Sweep the floor on the 1st day: It’s a big NO-NO! If you sweep your floor on the first day of the Tet Holiday, it means that you will sweep out all your luck, money, etc.
- Throwing trash on the 1st day: If you throw the garbage away, it means that you throw away your luck as well, so you should avoid it.
- Breaking things
- Borrowing money
- Paying Debts
Happy Tet! Wishing you a great year full of happiness, wealthiness, healthiness, and luck!
Model: Hoa Truong
Photo credits: Yêu Chụp Ảnh, Ha Truong.