Lunar New Year, also known as Tết, is the most important and widely celebrated holiday in Vietnam. It marks the beginning of the lunar calendar year and is a time for family reunions, honoring ancestors, and wishing for good luck in the new year. Tết is a festival rich in cultural significance and is observed with various customs and traditions. In this blog post, we will explore the traditions, customs, and festivities associated with Tết in Vietnam.
The Significance of Tết in Vietnamese Culture
Tết holds a special place in Vietnamese culture as it is a time to honor ancestors, pay respects to elders, and celebrate the arrival of spring. It is considered a time of renewal and rejuvenation, both spiritually and physically. The festival demonstrates the strong importance of family and community in Vietnamese society, where people leave their daily routines behind to gather with loved ones.
Lunar New Year (Tết) Traditions and Customs
Ong Cong, Ong Tao (Kitchen Gods): The 23rd day of the last Lunar month is a ritual worship to Kitchen Gods (Tao Cong). It is believed that each year on this day, these Gods (two males, one female) go to heaven to report to Jade Emperor (Ngoc Hoang) about all households’ activities on earth. Each household also buy a carp as the transport for the Gods to heaven and they set them free after the ritual.
Preparations: Weeks before Tết, Vietnamese families engage in thorough cleaning and decluttering of their homes. This practice, known as “đón Tết,” symbolizes the removal of bad luck and the welcoming of good fortune. Homes are meticulously decorated with colorful flowers, traditional ornaments, and bamboo trees.
New Year’s Eve: The night before Tết is spent together with family, honoring ancestors, and partaking in rituals. Offerings such as fruit, flowers, and special dishes are arranged on ancestral altars. Burning incense and praying to ancestors is an essential part of the celebration, as it is believed to bring good luck and prosperity for the coming year.
Giving Lucky Money (Lì Xì): One of the most cherished traditions during Tết is the giving of “lì xì,” small red envelopes containing money, to children and unmarried individuals. This custom symbolizes good wishes and blessings for the recipients, and children eagerly look forward to receiving their “lì xì” during the festival.
Traditional Foods: Tết is synonymous with a wide array of traditional dishes only prepared during this time. Bánh chưng (sticky rice cake with mung bean and pork wrapped in banana leaves), bánh tét (similar to bánh chưng but cylindrical in shape), and giò chả (Vietnamese sausage) are among the must-have specialties during Tết. These dishes carry symbolic meanings and are seen as offerings to ancestors, as well as representing the abundance and prosperity of the family.
Visiting Relatives and Friends: Tết is a time for Vietnamese people to pay respects to their elders and visit relatives and friends. The first day of Tết is usually dedicated to the paternal side of the family, while the second day is reserved for the maternal side. It is customary to bring gifts and extended family members often engage in friendly competitions of luck and skill during their visits.
Lion and Dragon Dances: Colorful lion and dragon dances are another highlight of Tết celebrations. These performances are believed to bring good fortune and ward off evil spirits. Dancers dressed in vibrant lion or dragon costumes entertain the spectators with their synchronized movements and lively music.
Fireworks and Firecrackers: Traditional firecrackers and fireworks are synonymous with Tết celebrations. It is believed that the loud noise and bright lights scare away evil spirits and bring good luck for the upcoming year. However, the use of fireworks has become restricted in urban areas due to safety concerns.
Flower Markets: Tết flower markets are a beloved tradition in Vietnam. These markets offer a wide variety of beautiful flowers, with peach blossoms and kumquat trees being the most popular choices. Vietnamese people believe that the presence of these flowers in their homes brings good luck, fortune, and prosperity for the new year.
Celebrating Tết in Modern Times
In contemporary Vietnam, Tết is celebrated with a blend of traditional customs and modern festivities. Many families continue to honor their ancestors and participate in cultural practices, but there is also an emphasis on entertainment, shopping, and leisure activities. Streets are adorned with colorful decorations, and cities buzz with excitement as people prepare for the festival.
Travel during Tết can be challenging due to the high demand for transportation and accommodation. It is advisable to book in advance and plan accordingly to avoid any inconveniences. Many Vietnamese families living in urban areas travel back to their hometowns to celebrate Tết with their relatives, leading to crowded travel hubs such as airports and train stations.
Additionally, people often take advantage of the holiday to relax and enjoy time off work. Many businesses and institutions close for a week or even longer, allowing employees and students to spend quality time with their families.
The Essence of Tết
At its core, Tết is a celebration of family, unity, and hope for a prosperous future. It is a time of reflection, gratitude, and renewed determination. Vietnamese people believe that the way one spends Tết is indicative of how their year will unfold. Therefore, they put great importance on starting the year on a positive note, surrounded by loved ones, and engaging in meaningful traditions and customs.
Tết in Vietnam is a time of tremendous significance and cultural richness. From the preparations leading up to the festival, the rituals and customs observed during, to the lively celebrations that take place, Tết embodies the core values of Vietnamese society, such as family, unity, and respect for ancestors. It is a time when the past is honored, the present is celebrated, and the future is eagerly anticipated. As Vietnam continues to evolve, Tết remains an integral part of its cultural fabric, preserving the nation’s rich heritage and traditions for generations to come.
So, whether you find yourself at a bustling Tết flower market, enjoying a delightful feast with loved ones, or engaging in festive activities, the spirit of Tết will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on your journey through Vietnam.
Most restaurants in Hanoi will be closed on Lunar New Year. You need to check and book a table in advance if traveling to Hanoi during TetReserve Now