Photo: KnowInsiders
Photo: KnowInsiders

In Vietnam, the Lunar New Year is known as Tết or Tết Nguyên Đán. It is the most important and popular festival for the Vietnamese people during the year. Tết is celebrated from the 1st of January to the 3rd, according to the lunar calendar. Each year a different sacred animal in the Chinese Zodiac controls the luck and destinies of all people. This year will be the Year of the Dog.

Not only is Tết a celebration of the arrival of spring and an occasion to pay respects to one's ancestors, it is also a great opportunity for the family to come together. Family members will return to their homeland for a reunion and savor the flavors of the holiday.

1. What is Tet in Vietnam?

Americans might recall the 1968 Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. Tet Nguyen Dan, shortened to Tet, is Vietnam’s Lunar New Year and is the most important annual celebration and public holiday in Vietnam spanning 5-7 days.

Photo: Viet Vision Travel
Photo: Viet Vision Travel

Tet celebrates the beginning of a new year as well as the coming of spring. Exuberant festivities are held — traditional food, music and dragon dancing performed along the streets. During this time there is a real sense of celebration in the air, making it a festive time to visit Vietnam.

Celebrated as a time of renewal, Tet serves as an opportunity for Vietnamese people to pay homage to their ancestors and have family reunions.

Preparations usually begin a week before Tet, as people start to return home, clean their family graves, worship at their family altars and decorate their homes with apricot blossoms, peach blossoms and kumquat trees, symbolizing the hope of prosperity and well-being.

2. When is Tet?

Tet is based on the lunar calendar and is generally celebrated on the same day as the Chinese New Year. The date changes annually but falls between mid-January and late February. Most Vietnamese people will have five days off for Tet.

Tet celebrations can range from 3 days and continue for up to one week. The festival is split into the day before New Year"s Eve, New Year"s Eve and New Year’s Day.

All of these days correspond to the Vietnamese or lunar calendar, so they will happen on a different date every year. Tet Festival will fall on Tuesday, February 1st in 2022.

The Features on Tet Holiday – Vietnamese New Year

Vietnamese Lunar New Year is NOT Chinese Lunar New Year

It is absolutely mistaken to say that the Vietnamese are celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year. Although both countries use the lunar calendar, Vietnamese people have different lunar new year customs, celebrations, and traditions from China.

The History of Lunar New Year in Vietnam

Photo: Viet Vision Travel
Photo: Viet Vision Travel

According to the historical documents, in the thirteenth century, Vietnamese people often celebrated the Tet holiday by painting tattoos on themselves, drinking traditional glutinous-rice liquor, using betel nuts to welcome guests, and eating Chung cakes, pickled onions. In the Ly dynasty (1009-1226), many important rituals were made on the Tet festival such as setting up a dome to pray for the rains or building communal houses to crave for a year of abundant harvests. In the period of King Le Thanh Tong (1442-1497), Tet was the most important festival and hundreds of mandarins had to gather at the royal court to celebrate this lunar new year festival with royal families.

The Tet Holiday’s Foods

In the Vietnamese language, to celebrate Tet also means to eat, which affirmed the important role of Vietnam Lunar New Year’s Food. One Vietnamese traditional proverb denotes that you can be hungry all year except three days of the Tet festival because dozens of delicious dishes and desserts will be prepared on Lunar New Year in Vietnam to feast on the ancestors as well as every family member.

Chung Cake

Photo: Viet Vision Travel
Photo: Viet Vision Travel

Chung cake is the traditional cake in Vietnam that only appears on the Tet holiday. Tasty and savory Chung cake is made from very familiar ingredients to all Vietnamese such as sticky rice, green beans, and pork, which is wrapped in green leaves and boiled overnight. According to a legend that has been passed on for thousands of generations, Chung cake is the symbol of Earth because it combines all the unique ingredients of Vietnamese agriculture. Although Chung cake can be tasted all seasons nowadays, enjoying these cakes during the Tet holiday still brings special feelings for Vietnamese people.

Jam – Vietnamese Lunar New Year’s Dessert

Photo: Viet Vision Travel
Photo: Viet Vision Travel

Jam is the common snack to welcome guests on the Tet holiday. It is mainly made from dried fruits like carrots, coconuts, apples, or some kinds of seeds such as roasted watermelon seeds, sunflower seeds mixed with sugar. The Vietnamese believe eating sweet things on the Tet holiday will bring them luck for the Lunar New Year.

Pickled Onions

Photo: Viet Vision Travel
Photo: Viet Vision Travel

On the Tet holiday, people often eat fat and oiled foods which easily cloys their appetite. This is high time for something with low calories and fresh like pickled onions. They help the digestive system digest high-protein food more easily. In the minds of Vietnamese people, Tet is only complete when there are fat meat, pickled onions, and red distiches.

Besides, there is a myriad of signature dishes that inspire the taste in different regions on Vietnamese Lunar New Year such as spring rolls, boiled chickens, Vietnamese sausages, sticky rice, and so on.

How to Celebrate the Tet

Before Tet

Cleaning & Decorating the House

Photo: Viet Vision Travel
Photo: Viet Vision Travel

Tet holiday is also called by a jolly name “house-cleaning festival”. A week before the Tet festival, all members of the family clean the house, the garden, the altars, do Tet holiday decorations. Broken things will be repaired, old things will be replaced. Clothes and decorations such as lanterns, distiches, led lights will be bought. All those preparations have the same purpose – to be the best to welcome the Lunar New Year festival and to receive luck as well as fortune.

Tet Ong Cong, Ong Tao (Gods & Goddess of Kitchen)

Photo: Hanoi Times
Photo: Hanoi Times

On the 23rd of the last month in the lunar calendar, Vietnamese people prepare the traditional offerings and especially the carps to regale the gods and goddesses living at their house all over the year. Then they will release the carp into the river so they will be used by the Gods as transportations to come to heaven, according to the legend. In heaven, they will report everything happening all around the year of their family to the King of heaven. They will come back on the last day of the year to celebrate the Tet holiday with the host. The carps then become the dragons. Tet Ong Cong, Ong Tao of Tet holiday 2022 is on January 25th.

Enjoy some fireworks

In Vietnamese culture, the lunar new year is a time when bad spirits may try to enter your home and bring bad fortune for the upcoming year. To keep these pesky wandering souls at bay, you need loud noises – and lots of them. Tết festivities always include big explosions, so figure out where they’ll be and take in the show. In Ho Chi Minh City, they’re near the Bitexco Tower. In Hanoi, they’re around Hoàn Kiếm Lake.

During Tet Holiday

Lunar New Year in Vietnam traditionally lasts for three days. People often stay at home to welcome guests to their houses or go to their relatives and neighborhood houses. The elderly will be received the Tet holiday’s gifts and wishes for health, the adults will be received the ones for fortune and success while the young and children will be received lucky money. Laughs and talks appear everywhere on the Tet holiday these days. Besides, Vietnamese people often go to pagodas. By donating money and asking for letters, they will receive several lucks and fortune.

Give out lucky money to kids

Photo: i Tour Vietnam
Photo: i Tour Vietnam

If you’re wondering why there are red envelopes hanging from trees, it’s because they’re filled with fake money – again, to bring good fortune. Similar to gift giving at Christmas in the West, families give children lucky money during Tết. As a foreigner, you’ll make many new friends if you bring around red envelopes and hand out lucky money to kids. It doesn’t need to be a lot: 5,000–10,000vnd ($0.22–0.44 USD) is plenty.

Give presents

If you’re in a homestay, or if you’ve made some local friends, a gift is a nice gesture that will earn you a lot of respect. Don’t go overboard, though. Things like boxes of chocolates and bottles of wine are perfect.

Mascots of Tet holiday

Trees & Flowers on Tet Holiday

Photo: c2.staticflickr
Photo: c2.staticflickr

Peach blossom in Northern Vietnam and apricot blossom trees in Southern Vietnam are also symbols that exclusively appear on the Tet holiday. The light red of peach blossom will bring luck while the yellow of apricot blossom will bring fortune to the owners. It is said that Tet Vietnam will lose itself if missing two of them.

Neu Tree

Photo: Viet Vision Travel
Photo: Viet Vision Travel

It is originally a 5 meters tall bamboo shoot. The chop of the tree hangs different things based on each region such as votive papers, amulet exorcism, or alcohol bottles made of straw. It is believed that the appearance of the Neu tree on the Tet holiday in Vietnam is the signal for the devils to realize that this place is home to living people, not to harass.

Tray of Five Fruits

Photo: Việt Nam Mới
Photo: Việt Nam Mới

This is a tray of five different fruits such as bananas, grapefruits, oranges, and other tropical fruits which are only prepared on the Vietnamese New Year. Although each region chooses different fruits, a tray of five fruits is still used to express the wishes for the Lunar New Year of the host family by their names, colors, and arrangements.

In addition, kumquat trees, Dong Ho paintings, red distiches are also believed by the Vietnamese to bring luck and wealth for them all around the year.

Vietnamese New Year Wishes & Greetings

The Tet festival is the main holiday in Vietnam. Therefore, Vietnamese people will give each other the best wishes for a lucky and successful Lunar New Year. Below are some of Tet holiday greetings and wishes with meanings in English.

• Chúc Mừng Năm Mới: Happy Vietnam Lunar New Year

• An Khang Thịnh Vượng: Wish you are always safe and sound, wealthy, and prosperous.

• Vạn Sự Như Ý: All your wishes will come true.

Tấn Tài Tấn Lộc: Wish you a new year of fortune.

Don’t do these things - New Year Taboos In Vietnam

As long as you’re in good spirits and don’t intrude too much into anyone’s private family time, you’ll be fine during Tết. Vietnamese people know foreigners aren’t aware of all the local customs and traditions, so you’ll be forgiven for any minor mistakes. And besides, everyone’s in such a good mood that nobody wants to get into a huff about anything anyway. This leads to the first thing to avoid: arguments. Try not to shout or get angry during Tết, because the mood during this holiday time is an omen for the upcoming year. If you come in spreading anger and trying to fight about petty things, then you’re bringing them bad luck. This also applies to criticism. It’s considered very bad etiquette to say bad things about a person during Tết.

Don’t worry, be happy

Try not to wear too much black as well. It’s the color of death in Vietnam, and since people are wary of evil spirits during this time of year, a person wearing black is a bad sign. The more colors you wear, the better.

Do get out and explore

This will sound cliché, but the best Tết experiences aren’t found in any guide books. You have to get out and explore if you really want to get into the festive spirit. Trust us, you won’t wander too long before a family invites you in to share a few snacks and drinks. Every year for Tết, we go for a stroll through the neighborhood to see how people are celebrating, and every year, we end up drinking ourselves silly and having an amazing time – one that we never would’ve expected beforehand. Tết is such a happy time of year in Vietnam, so get out there and feel the joy for yourself.

Tips for Visiting Vietnam during Tet Festival

If you are visiting Vietnam during Tet Festival, we recommend booking hotels and transportation in advance as there will be lots of people moving around the country to visit family during that week. You may have to budget for slightly higher costs too due to raised demand, especially if you’re not booking in advance.

The restaurants frequented by tourists are more likely to be open in the bigger cities, so venture out to the Western restaurants during these few days or the larger Vietnamese restaurants in your guidebooks. If you are uncertain, you can ask your hotel to call ahead to check opening hours during the festive period to avoid disappointment, and they will also know where is open.

Because some of the museums and art galleries will be shut, we recommend visiting the public parks and lakes which are always open. For example, in Hanoi is a great idea to walk around to soak up the festive atmosphere, as well as the Old Quarter.

Finally, bargaining is considered to bring about bad luck for the whole year, so try not to bargain during this special period. If you absolutely have to, try to be especially polite. It is best to save your shopping for right before or right after Tet!

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