Vietnamese New Year (Tết Nguyên Đán in Vietnamese) is the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture which celebrates the arrival of spring, which is why it is often called the Spring Festival (Hội xuân). The date the festival falls on, like most Vietnamese festivals, is based on the Vietnamese variation of the Chinese lunar calendar. It is usually in January or February. And Vietnamese New Year is observed on February 19, 2015.
Tết is celebrated on the same day as Chinese New Year and takes place from the first day of the first month of the Vietnamese calendar until at least the third day. During Tết, the Vietnamese visit their relatives and temples, forgetting about the troubles of the past year and hoping for a better upcoming year.
Before New Year’s Eve
In the days leading up to Tết, the streets and markets are full of people as they try to stock up on supplies before the shops close for Tết. Parents buy new clothes for their children to be worn for the festival.
Vietnamese families also buy home peach blossom, kumquat and orange trees; and flowers, such as chrysanthemums or orchids, planted and placed in beautiful pots in front of or inside the house, to decorate their homes.
In the days leading up to Tết, families cook special holiday foods, such as bánh chưng and bánh dầy. Family members often take turns to keep watch on the fire overnight, telling each past stories about Tết.
To show respect to their ancestors, Vietnamese families usually have a family altar, which is thoroughly cleaned and new offerings are placed at during Tết. This includes a tray of five different fruits on the altar called “Mâm Ngũ Quả”.
The New Year
The first day of Tết is reserved for the nuclear family. Children receive a red envelope containing money from their elders. Usually, children wear their new clothes and say traditional Tết greetings to their elders before receiving the money.
During the following days, people visit relatives and friends. Local Buddhist temples are popular spots as people like to give donations and have 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. There are also public performances for everyone to watch.
Sweeping during Tết is taboo since it symbolizes sweeping the luck away, which is why people do the cleaning before the New Year. It is also taboo for anyone experiencing a recent loss of a family member to visit anyone else during Tết.
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. After the parade, families and friends will 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 where the elders will hand out red envelopes with money to the children for good luck in exchange for Tết greetings.
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)
An khang thịnh vượng – security, good health, and prosperity
Vạn sự như ý – may myriad things go according to your will
Sức khỏe dồi dào – plenty of health
Cung hỉ phát tài – congratulations and be prosperous
Tiền vô như nước – may money flow in like water
In Vietnam, food is an important part of festivals. Some are eaten year-round, while others are only eaten during Tết. Some are vegetarian since it is believed to be good luck to eat vegetarian food on Tết. Some traditional foods include:
Bánh chưng and bánh tét: tightly packed sticky rice with meat or bean fillings wrapped in Dong (Phrynium placentarium) leaves
Hạt Dưa: roasted watermelon seeds
Dưa Hành: pickled onion and cabbage
Củ Kiệu: pickled small leeks
Mứt: dried candied fruits
Cầu Dừa Đủ Xoài: popular fruits used for offerings at the family altar in fruit
Thịt Kho Nước Dừa: meat stewed in coconut juice, often eaten with pickled bean sprouts and chives, and white rice
Games and entertainment
Bầu cua tôm cá is a Vietnamese gambling game that involves using three dice. It is traditionally played during Tết. Firework displays have also become a part of the Tết celebration in Vietnam. During New Year’s Eve, firework displays at major cities such as Hà Nội, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang, are accompanied by New Year wishes of the current president.