Celebrating Tet in Vietnam

Held every year during the same time as the Chinese Lunar New Year, is the Vietnamese Lunar New Year called Tết. It’s the time of the year to be grateful of everything around us, exchanging gifts, and to be with family. Houses are often decorated with yellow blossoms of the Hoa Mai. I was lucky enough to celebrate it in Vietnam this year.

While this year is the year of the rabbit in China, the Vietnamese replace the rabbit with a cat therefore making 2011 the year of the cat.

Tet (Short for Tết Nguyên Đán) is a family holiday. Starting from the week that follows Tet, everyone hordes to their hometown to visit family. Highways outside of Saigon and Hanoi are packed as motorbikes crowd the street and buses are over filled and speeding to their destination. As I walked the streets, shouts of “Happy New Year” made it clear how much joy this holiday brings to the Vietnamese people.

While Tet is officially celebrated for three days,  it’s a process of the week that follows Tet and for the weeks after.

Tet in Vietnam

The week before Tet

We were at the Mekong Delta floating markets around this time and we were told it was three times bigger because of the upcoming holidays. In another example on New Year’s Eve, we were in Dalat at the market and we were told again it was much bigger than usual. Nationwide, the Vietnamese people are preparing for the holidays by stocking up on food and decorations for their house. Generally, many stores are closed during Tet making it difficult to go shopping therefore it is better to go shopping the days prior.

Families are cooking huge meals for Tet. It is a taboo to cook on the day of Tet; preparing the meals the day before is essential to the tradition.

It is also important to be clear of all debt before Tet to start the New Year fresh. The same tradition also holds true for new clothing. New clothing is bought and is to be worn on the day of New Years.
Tet in Vietnam

New Years Day

The first day is to be celebrated with the immediate family. It is to be celebrated in one household where the family is to meet from the elders to the children. Children receive money from their elders in an envelope. It is considered “lucky money”.

Since no cooking is done the day of Tet, they take out the food that was prepared the days prior. No sweeping or cleaning is to be done as well as its considered bad luck to clean the house because it represents sweeping the good luck away.
Tet in Vietnam

New Years Eve, families shopping at the markets preparing for New Years Day.

Tet in Vietnam

New Years Day of the same market area.

The days after New Years

The second day is reserved for friends while the third day is reserved for teachers. It is common for a Vietnamese to go a Buddhist temple as many consider the Buddha to be their teacher.

Stores continue to be closed as family and friends stay close. After a few days, everyone rushes back to the their city to continue work. Highways are again jammed packed. Many Vietnamese people are dead broke after the holidays after paying off their debt, giving money away, and from preparing the celebrations.

Why are these traditions so important?

It is believed that the beginning of the new year determines how the rest of the year will be like. Setting a good example at the start will bring luck for the rest of the year.

Tet in Vietnam

Is there anything that should be added to the article? Have you celebrated Tet in Vietnam? Help me expand this article.

Michael Tieso

Michael Tieso travels around the world writing, photographing, and filming his adventures. He is the Editor-in-chief of Art of Adventuring.

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