Similar to its Chinese counterpart, Vietnam’s colourful New Year festival is a time of parades, fireworks and family gatherings.
Tet Nguyen Dan (Festival of the First Morning of the Year), often called simply Tet, is Vietnam’s most important festival and marks the beginning of the lunar year. It is celebrated in either January or February, depending on the lunar calendar.
Tet rites begin a week before Mung Mot (the first day of the Lunar New Year). This is when the Kitchen God (Ong Tao) returns to the Kingdom of Heaven and presents his annual report on the state of earthly matters to the Jade Emperor before returning to earth on New Year’s Eve. During his week-long journey to heaven, the Vietnamese guard themselves against malevolent spirits. In the countryside, you will often find a cay neu (signal tree), a bamboo pole with a clay tablet and a piece of yellow cloth attached, in front of the home. Another indispensable feature in the north is a branch of peach blossom, or cay dao. In southern and central Vietnam, cay mai, a branch of yellow apricot blossom, is more common. The kumquat tree is another popular decorative feature in the north. This tree is carefully selected to ensure it has both golden-orange ripe fruit and unripe green fruit, representing prosperity now (ripe fruit) and prosperity to come (green fruit).
During the holiday the family table will be laden with food. There will be plenty of banh chung, glutinous rice cakes stuffed with pork beans and onion, xoi (sticky rice) with pork and pickled onions as well as a variety of mut, or candied sweets.
The Vietnamese traditionally lit firecrackers to scare off evil spirits. However, firecrackers had turned the cities and countryside into a battle zone, and in 1995 they were outlawed. Today, extravagant fireworks displays are organised in every major city to celebrate the start of the New Year.
The first day of Tet is for the worship of ancestors, who are ceremoniously welcomed back from heaven on New Year’s Eve during the Giao Thua, the transition as one year passes to the next. Elaborately prepared food offerings, together with burning incense, await the ancestors at the altar. All events – whether favourable or unfavourable – that take place on the first day of Tet are believed to affect the course of one’s life for the year ahead. Homeowners will also consider carefully who should be the first person to walk through their door after the New Year begins, a custom known as xong nha. It must be a person who has had a prosperous year or a person with a reputation for bringing good luck.
The rest of the week will be spent visiting relatives, family friends, temples and pagodas. Children receive mung tuoi, meaning lucky money, in slim red envelopes from elders. Employees will often visit their boss, sometimes bearing lavish gifts to curry favour for the working year ahead.
Traditionally, people would have stopped working for at least a week. Now in most cities many businesses only close for three days, forcing reluctant staff back to work prematurely. Still, during Tet, tourists should anticipate services to be running more sluggishly than usual, if at all. travel to vietnam