Tết ([tet˧˥] or [təːt˧˥]), Vietnamese New Year, Vietnamese Lunar New Year or Tet Holiday, is the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture. The word is a shortened form of Tết Nguyên Đán (節元旦), which is Sino-Vietnamese for “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day”. Tết celebrates the arrival of spring based on the Vietnamese calendar, which usually has the date falling in January or February in the Gregorian calendar.
Vietnamese people celebrate the Lunar New Year annually, which is based on a lunisolar calendar (calculating both the motions of Earth around the Sun and of the Moon around Earth). Tết is generally celebrated on the same day as Chinese New Year, except when the one-hour time difference between Vietnam and China results in new moon occurring on different days. It takes place from the first day of the first month of the Vietnamese calendar (around late January or early February) until at least the third day. Many Vietnamese prepare for Tết by cooking special holiday food and cleaning the house. These foods include bánh chưng, bánh dày, dried young bamboo soup (canh măng), giò, and sticky rice. Many customs are practiced during Tết, such as visiting a person’s house on the first day of the new year (xông nhà), ancestor worship, wishing New Year’s greetings, giving lucky money to children and elderly people, and opening a shop.
Tết is also an occasion for pilgrims and family reunions. They start forgetting about the troubles of the past year and hope for a better upcoming year. They consider Tết to be the first day of spring, and the festival is often called Hội xuân (spring festival).
Vietnamese people usually return to their families during Tết. Some return to worship at the family altar or visit the graves of their ancestors in their homeland. They also clean the graves of their family as a sign of respect. Although Tết is a national holiday among all Vietnamese, each region and religion has its own customs.
Tết in the three Vietnamese regions can be divided into three periods, known as Tất Niên (penultimate New Year’s Eve), Giao Thừa (New Year’s Eve), and Tân Niên (the New Year), representing the preparation before Tết, the eve of Tết, and the days of and following Tết, respectively.
The New Year
The first day of Tết is reserved for the nuclear family. Children receive a red envelope containing money from their elders. This tradition is called mừng tuổi (happy new age) in the north and lì xì in the south. Usually, children wear their new clothes and give their elders the traditional Tết greetings before receiving the money. Since the Vietnamese believe that the first visitor a family receives in the year determines their fortune for the entire year, people never enter any house on the first day without being invited first. The act of being the first person to enter a house on Tết is called xông đất, xông nhà or đạp đất, which is one of the most important rituals during Tết. According to Vietnamese tradition, if good things come to the family on the first day of the lunar New Year, the entire following year will also be full of blessings. Usually, a person of good temper, morality, and success will be the lucky sign for the host family and be invited first into the house. However, just to be safe, the owner of the house will leave the house a few minutes before midnight and come back just as the clock strikes midnight to prevent anyone else entering the house first who might potentially bring any unfortunate events in the new year to the household.
Sweeping during Tết is taboo or xui (unlucky), since it symbolizes sweeping the luck away; that is why they clean before the new year. It is also taboo for anyone who experienced a recent loss of a family member to visit anyone else during Tết.
During subsequent days, people visit relatives and friends. Traditionally but not strictly, the second day of Tết is usually reserved for friends, while the third day is for teachers, who command respect in Vietnam. Local Buddhist temples are popular spots as people like to give donations and to get their fortunes told during Tết. Children are free to spend their new money on toys or on gambling games such as bầu cua cá cọp, which can be found in the streets. Prosperous families can pay for dragon dancers to perform at their house. Also, public performances are given for everyone to watch.
These celebrations can last from a day up to the entire week, and the New Year is filled with people in the streets trying to make as much noise as possible using firecrackers, drums, bells, gongs, and anything they can think of to ward off evil spirits. This parade will also include different masks, and dancers hidden under the guise of what is known as the Mua Lan or Lion Dancing. The Lan is an animal between a lion and a dragon, and is the symbol of strength in the Vietnamese culture that is used to scare away evil spirits. After the parade, families and friends come together to have a feast of traditional Vietnamese dishes, and share the happiness and joy of the New Year with one another. This is also the time when the elders will hand out red envelopes with money to the children for good luck in exchange for Tết greetings.
It is also tradition to pay off your debts before the Lunar New Year for some Vietnamese families.
Traditionally, each family displays cây nêu, an artificial New Year tree consisting of a bamboo pole 5 to 6 m long. The top end is usually decorated with many objects, depending on the locality, including good luck charms, origami fish, cactus branches, etc.
At Tết, every house is usually decorated by Yellow Apricot blossoms (hoa mai) in the central and southern parts of Vietnam; or peach blossoms (hoa đào) in the northern part of Vietnam; or St. John’s wort (hoa ban) in the mountain areas. In the north, some people (especially the elite in the past) also decorate their house with a plum blossoms (also called hoa mai in Vietnamese, but referring to a totally different species from mickey-mouse blossoms). In the north or central, the kumquat tree is a popular decoration for the living room during Tết. Its many fruits symbolize the fertility and fruitfulness for which the family hopes in the coming year.
Vietnamese people also decorate their homes with bonsai and flowers such as chrysanthemums (hoa cúc), marigolds (vạn thọ) symbolizing longevity, cockscombs (mào gà) in southern Vietnam and paperwhites (thủy tiên) and pansies (hoa lan) in northern Vietnam. In the past was a tradition where people tried to make their paperwhites bloom on the day of the observance.
The traditional greetings are “Chúc Mừng Năm Mới” (Happy New Year) and “Cung Chúc Tân Xuân“, (gracious wishes of the new spring). People also wish each other prosperity and luck. Common wishes for Tết include:
- Sống lâu trăm tuổi (long life of 100 years): used by children for elders. Traditionally, everyone is one year older on Tết, so children would wish their grandparents health and longevity in exchange for mừng tuổi or lì xì.
- An khang thịnh vượng (安康興旺, security, good health, and prosperity)
- Vạn sự như ý (萬事如意, may myriad things go according to your will)
- Sức khỏe dồi dào (Plenty of health)
- Tiền vô như nước (may money flow in like water): used informally
- Cung hỉ phát tài (恭喜發財, Congratulations and be prosperous)
- Năm mới thắng lợi mới: New year, new triumphs (often heard in political speech)
- Chúc hay ăn chóng lớn: Eat more, grow rapidly (for children)
- Năm mới thăng quan tiến chức: I wish that you will get promoted in the new year
- Năm mới toàn gia bình an: I wish that the new year will bring health to all your family
In Vietnamese language, to celebrate Tết is to ăn Tết, literally meaning “eat Tết”, showing the importance of food in its celebration. Some of the food is also eaten year-round, while other dishes are only eaten during Tết. Also, some of the food is vegetarian since it is believed to be good luck to eat vegetarian on Tết. Some traditional foods on Tết are:
- Bánh chưng and bánh tét: essentially tightly packed sticky rice with meat or bean fillings wrapped in dong () leaves. When these leaves are unavailable, banana leaves can be used as a substitute. One difference between them is their shape. Bánh chưng is the square-shaped one to represent the Earth, while bánh tét is cylindrical to represent the moon. Also, bánh chưng is more popular in the northern parts of Vietnam, so as bánh tét is more popular in the south. Preparation can take days. After moulding them into their respective shapes (the square shape is achieved using a wooden frame), they are boiled for several hours to cook. The story of their origins and their connection with Tết is often recounted to children while cooking them overnight.
- Hạt dưa: roasted watermelon seeds, also eaten during Tết
- Dưa hành: pickled onion and pickled cabbage
- Củ kiệu: pickled small leeks
- Mứt: These dried candied fruits are rarely eaten at any time besides Tết.
- Kẹo dừa: coconut candy
- Kẹo mè xửng: peanut brittle with sesame seeds or peanuts
- Cầu sung dừa Đủ xoài: In southern Vietnam, popular fruits used for offerings at the family altar in are the custard-apple/sugar-apple/soursop (mãng cầu), coconut (dừa), goolar fig (sung), papaya (đu đủ), and mango (xoài), since they sound like “cầu sung vừa đủ xài” ([We] pray for enough [money/resources/funds/goods/etc.] to use) in the southern dialect of Vietnamese.
- Thịt Kho Nước Dừa Meaning “meat stewed in coconut juice”, it is a traditional dish of pork belly and medium boiled eggs stewed in a broth-like sauce made overnight of young coconut juice and nuoc mam. It is often eaten with pickled bean sprouts and chives, and white rice.
- Xôi Gấc: traditionally a red sticky rice that is typically prepared by steaming and sweetened lightly, typically paired with Chả lụa (most common type of sausage in Vietnamese cuisine, made of pork and traditionally wrapped in banana leaves.)
Games and entertainment
People enjoy traditional games during Tết, including: bầu cua cá cọp, cờ tướng, , , and . They also participate in some competitions presenting their knowledge, strength, and aestheticism, such as the bird competition and competition.
Fireworks displays have also become an traditional part of a Tết celebration in Vietnam. During the New Year’s Eve, fireworks displays at major cities, such as Hà Nội, Ho Chi Minh City, and Da Nang, are broadcast through multiple national and local TV channels, accompanied by New Year wishes of the incumbent president. In 2017 only, fireworks displays were prohibited due to political and financial reasons. In the U.S., there are fireworks displays at many of its festivals.
Gặp nhau cuối năm (Year-end Gathering) is a national favourite comedy show broadcast during the night before the New Year’s Eve.
Dates in Lunar Calendar
From 1996 to 2067.
Zodiac Gregorian date Tý (Rat) 19 February 1996 7 February 2008 25 January 2020 11 February 2032 30 January 2044 15 February 2056 Sửu (Buffalo) 7 February 1997 26 January 2009 12 February 2021 31 January 2033 17 February 2045 4 February 2057 Dần (Tiger) 28 January 1998 14 February 2010 1 February 2022 19 February 2034 6 February 2046 24 January 2058 Mẹo (Cat) 16 February 1999 3 February 2011 22 January 2023 8 February 2035 26 January 2047 12 February 2059 Thìn (Dragon) 5 February 2000 23 January 2012 10 February 2024 28 January 2036 14 February 2048 2 February 2060 Tỵ (Snake) 24 January 2001 10 February 2013 29 January 2025 15 February 2037 2 February 2049 21 January 2061 Ngọ (Horse) 12 February 2002 31 January 2014 17 February 2026 4 February 2038 23 January 2050 9 February 2062 Mùi (Goat) 1 February 2003 19 February 2015 6 February 2027 24 January 2039 11 February 2051 29 January 2063 Thân (Monkey) 22 January 2004 8 February 2016 26 January 2028 12 February 2040 1 February 2052 17 February 2064 Dậu (Rooster) 9 February 2005 28 January 2017 13 February 2029 1 February 2041 18 February 2053 5 February 2065 Tuất (Dog) 29 January 2006 16 February 2018 2 February 2030 22 January 2042 8 February 2054 26 January 2066 Hợi (Pig) 18 February 2007 5 February 2019 23 January 2031 10 February 2043 28 January 2055 14 February 2067
- List of Buddhist festivals
- Celebrations of Lunar New Year in other parts of Asia:
- Similar Asian Lunisolar New Year celebrations that occur in April:
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- Vietnamese New Year customs
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- Tết – Vietnamese Lunar New Year Traditions
- Tet Festival Orange County Fairgrounds, Costa Mesa, CA
- Tet on Phu Quoc Island on Vietnam’s largest island
- Tết Festival – San Francisco