What is Tết or Vietnamese New Year? A quick introduction
What is Tết or Vietnamese New Year?
Tết is the Vietnamese name for the lunar New Year. Vietnam’s holidays and festivals work according to a lunar calendar. This means instead of celebrating New Year Day on January 1st they celebrate it sometime between late January and mid February.
Tết is more than just a quick celebration and a few fireworks. It is an 12 day long celebration filled with religious significance, purity rituals and family time. It is the largest holiday of the year in Vietnam akin to Christmas, New Years, Birthdays and Bank Holidays all rolled into one. You can find out more about Tết traditions and customs by checking out Part Three of our guide, Vietnamese New Year Traditions, or by reading How is it Celebrated below.
When is it?
This year Tết officially starts on February 5th 2019. A national public holiday has been called to mark the holiday between February 2nd to 10th 2019. During this time a lot of shops and businesses will be closed or running on a skeleton crew. If you are in Vietnam during Tết make sure you check out our guide to Travelling During Tết for more information on what to see and do.
How is it celebrated?
Vietnamese celebrate by flocking back to their family homes, preparing large and lavish meals, cleaning every inch of their houses and praying to their ancestors. For most Vietnamese people it’s the longest holiday they’ll have all year and they make the most of it. Traditional families will closely follow the rituals and customs associated with the 12 days of Tết. They spend the time visiting distant relatives and planning the year ahead. Vietnamese Traditions include:
Cleaning out the old and keeping in the new
Most Vietnamese believe the end of the old year is the time to sweep away all of their bad luck and misfortune and start the new year afresh. They take the sweeping out quite literally. Weeks before Tết families will start to clean and fix up every inch of their homes.
Visiting relatives alive and dead
Tết really is a time for family and in Vietnam that doesn’t just mean the living ones. Most Vietnamese practice an ancient form of ancestor worship. They believe the spirits of the dead live on and visit the living throughout the year. Throughout the Tết holiday ancestors are invited to join in the fun with meals and offerings being placed on the family shrine. On the final day of Tết the paper offerings will be burnt and the food turned into the biggest feast of the year. Throughout the holidays Vietnamese will visit their family and friends and maybe even make a pilgrimage to their ancestral home.
Bringing a Tết tree home
If you visit Vietnam in the weeks and months before Tết you can’t miss the blossoming Tết trees lined up for sale on the sidewalks and carefully strapped to the back of motorbikes. Bringing a blossoming tree into your house represents new life and good fortune. The bigger the tree, the greater the luck and prosperity. In the North people prefer peach blossom or kumquat trees. In the South they prefer kumquat or yellow blossom trees.
Giving lucky money to the old and young
Tết isn’t just a time for renewal, it’s a time for redistribution. For sharing your good fortune with the old and young. There is nothing more fun during Tết than seeing red cheeked little terrors running around holding their little red envelopes stuffed with Lucky Money. Parents, Aunties, Uncles, friends, cousins, sisters, brothers and anyone earning a good wage will give a few hundred thousand Đong to younger family members, students and the elderly to help them start the New Year.
Matching up the star signs
The Vietnamese zodiac system plays an important part of everyday life in Vietnam. The year you were born in determines your star sign and each star sign has a matching lucky partner. House owners are eager to start the year with plenty of good luck. This means giving extra lucky money to family members who are lucky matches for the new year and inviting someone whose star sign is your lucky match to be the first one to enter the house. You can find more about Vietnamese Star Signs here.
Eating Traditional Tết Food
Like any Vietnamese get together food plays a starring role. Days before Tết the family starts preparing a huge array of dishes including cured meats, rice cakes, special soups and pickled onions. For the first three days of Tết most people eat nothing else. On the 4th day a huge feast is prepared that lasts a whole day. You can find out more about Special Tết food by reading our guide to eating Tết right here.
Being that little bit nicer
Tết is a time of renewal. A time to say goodbye to all the bad luck of the old year and start anew. Vietnamese people believe the first interactions of the new year sets the scene for the year to come. If your Tết is full of friendly, fun and conflict free interactions with other people, the next year will be peaceful and prosperous. If you get into lots of petty arguments it could spell disaster for your family, love life and business. This means everyone smiles a little brighter, acts a little bit kinder and is generally a little bit nicer than at any other time of the year.