Daily Life :: Festivals & Celebrations

Tet (Tet nguyên dán) is the Vietnamese New Year. It marks the coming of spring and the new lunar year. The celebrations last three days. Tet shares many of the same customs of the Chinese New Year.
  1. Preparations

    • Streets are filled with shoppers - buying new clothes for children, candies, flowers and decorations for their homes.

    • Offerings of food are made to Ong Tao (the kitchen guardian spirit)
      According to legend, Ong Tao will return to heaven on the 23rd day of the last month of the lunar calendar and report to the Jade Emperor about matters in that house/family. Often, Vietnamese families smear honey over the mouth of the image of Ong Tao to ensure that he will say only sweet things.
    • Special holiday foods such as banh chung and banh day are prepared and cooked.

  2. New Year's Eve

    Tet Vietnam
    • Each home is swept and decorated in red and gold, with yellow "hoa mai" flowers (in southern Vietnam) or peach blossoms "hoa dao" (in the northern part of Vietnam) and with woodcut prints of the new year's zodiac animal.

    • Traditionally, each home displays a 5-6m long bamboo pole, stripped of its leaves except the top. It is decorated with greeting cards and symbols for good luck and protection from evil spirits.

    • Food offerings and burnt offerings to ancestors

    • At midnight, Ong Tao is welcomed back.

  3. The New Year

    • The first day is reserved for the nucleus family. Children don their new clothes and give their elders the traditional Tet greetings. The elders give them red envelopes containing money. Children are free to spend the money on toys or games.

    • The Vietnamese believe that the first visitor to the home on the first day will determine their fortune for the entire year. Usually, a person with wealth or an auspicious name is invited first into the home.
      However, the owner of the house may step out of the house before midnight on New Year's Eve and come back just after midnight - this is to avoid unexpected arrival of a guest (the next day) who might potentially bring bad luck to the family. It is taboo for anyone who had experienced a recent loss of a family member to visit anyone during Tet.
    • Sweeping during Tet is also taboo as it symbolizes sweeping luck away.

    • Over the next few days, the Vietnamese visit an extended circle of teachers, friends, colleagues and business associates. They also visit local Buddhist temples to give donations and to get their fortunes told.

    • Dragon dances are performed throughout Vietnam during Tet.

Wandering Souls Day (Trung nguyen) is celebrated on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month. It is a day for remembering the dead when offerings of food and gifts are given to their wandering souls.

Mid-Autumn Festival or Tet trung thu (pronounced tet-troong-thoo) is held on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. Parents buy brightly-colored lanterns for their children. The lantern frame is made from bamboo and wrapped with multi-colored plastic material. A candle holder is located in the center for a small candle. At night, the children participate in a candlelit lantern procession in the streets with drums and songs.