Tet Holiday, or Lunar New Year, is the most important festival in Vietnam. Tet is the time for family reunion, so people visit their family, preparing and enjoying Tet holiday together. During these days, there are surely lots of interesting to do, but I’ll just list the most common things to do on Tet holiday in Vietnam and share my culture.
“Refreshing” the house
Tet is the time for new things. Vietnamese usually spend half of the month before Tet holiday to prepare for it. Cleaning home before Tet is one of the indispensable cultural features in Vietnam. Housecleaning, before Lunar New Year, helps to organize old year, removing old things to remove bad luck and welcome new year fortunes. Repainting the house, washing mattress and pillow, trimming trees neatly, etc. can make home look refresh and nice.
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 houses at the end of the year before the 23rd, which is the day Ông Táo (The Kitchen God) go back to heaven. Furthermore, housecleaning is not only the belief but also makes the owners feel confident when relatives and friends visit. Also, the guests themselves feel more important and respected when they get invited, as the house is neat and tidy.
Vietnamese love decorating their houses on Tet holiday. Lunar New Year is an occasion for members to prepare new items, new furniture, to welcome a full Tet and a fortune year.
It’s also important to buy flowers to decorate at home. In the north of Vietnam, Northern Vietnamese usually buy Peach Blossom tree, while in the South, people usually buy Ochna tree to place in their houses.
There are many criteria to evaluate how good an Ochna tree is. We usually based on the number of flowers, the shape of flowers and the shape of the root. “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 such as cutting hair, buying new clothes, new shoes, etc. Everyone wants to look better on Tet holiday.
Making Vietnamese traditional cake – Banh Chung and Banh Tet
Tet is the time for tradition. Folding Traditional cake – Banh Chung, Banh Tet is a Vietnamese tradition which started from 18th Hung Vuong King. At the 28th – 29th of Tet Holiday, Vietnamese families often gather and making Banh Chung (square glutinous rice cake) and Banh Tet to enjoy and give to others. It’s quite difficult to make these traditional cakes so the makers must be very skillful to be able to wrap these cakes beautifully and tightly, otherwise, the cakes will crack and absorb water. Nowadays, there are not many families making Banh Chung, Banh Tet anymore, but everyone still eats it.
Worshiping the ancestors
Preparing dishes to worship the ancestors has become an important activity at the 30th of Tet Holiday. In the early morning, 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. This is a beautiful tradition which contains ethics and reminders about the memories and the merits of their ancestors.
New Year Eve’s ceremony
New Year’s Eve is the time of connection between two years, and it’s time to prepare the altar and traditional dishes to worship the gods. At the end of the year, the old gods give up work for the new gods at the moment of transfer between the new year and the old 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), Dưa hấu (Watermelon).
Tasting Vietnamese traditional food
Tet is the best time to try Vietnamese traditional food! Sticky rice with jellied meat, pig trotters stewed with dried bamboo shoots, lean pork paste are some of the main dishes. Pickled onion, pickled small leeks, roasted watermelon seeds and dried candied fruits are important side dishes that you can try in every house.
Watching Tet’s TV series
There are some special TV series which 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, which is a comedy series yearly. It reports the main issues happened in Vietnam in that fiscal year with lots of humor.
You can observe fireworks many places around Vietnam. Many families drive their scooters to main attractions, waiting there beforehand to observing fireworks. The roads are really crowded during this time, so the atmosphere is really nice outside :)
Tet is the time for family. Therefore, despite how far they are, Vietnamese people always try their best to come back 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 usually organize Tet banquet during these reunions, and of course, there will be a lot of drinking and eating :)
Visiting people is a very unique and indispensable culture on Tet holiday, showing the kindness and joy of spring. When visiting, everyone is dressed in nice clothes, usually with a red meaning, and bring 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 to “lucky” in Vietnamese culture. Usually, kids receive lots of lucky money, and they will need to say thank you and 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 give wishes for health. While 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 be considered as a child and is allowed to receive lucky money. Also, the younger also give the elder people lucky money to wish for good health.
Visiting pagodas and temples
With the desire to find peace, dismissing the anxieties and worries of the old year and wishing for luck and happiness in the new year, Vietnamese usually visits pagodas on Tet holiday. 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 visited them more often than men. The smell of incense smoke, the beauty of flowers and the peace of the atmosphere will make people feel better and peaceful.
Receiving Parallel and Calligraphy pictures
Vietnamese people have traditions to receive parallel and Calligraphy pictures from the Master (ông Đồ) on Tet Holiday.
In the past, when Vietnamese people go to Tet market, they usually go through the gate of the market and ask for the Master, who gives a parallel sentence or a single word. They often ask for the word or parallel to worship with the hope that their children will become good people when they grow up. The most popular words are Tâm, Phúc (Luck), Đức (Virtue), An (Peace), Lộc (Money), … Nowadays, you can receive parallel and Calligraphy pictures at the street next to the Temple of Literature in Ha Noi or at some other pagodas.
Here is a poem about Ông Đồ – the Master
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 a 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?
“The Master” was translated by Vuong Thu Trang 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 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 Tet holiday. It makes the atmosphere more cheerful and enjoyable.
Visiting flower markets
Tet is the time to wander! The streets are really beautiful with all decorations and flower markets, so people usually hang out and observing these beauties. Also, it’s really common to have some professional photo shoots at these flower markets too.
Things not to 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 Tet Holiday, it means that you will sweep out all your luck, money, etc.
- Throwing trash on the 1st day: If you throw trash 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 with full of happiness, wealthiness, healthiness, and luck!
Model: Hoa Truong
Photo credits: Yêu Chụp Ảnh, Ha Truong, Unsplash.