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Vietnamese New Year Traditions and Celebrations

Among a bunch of traditional festivals, Vietnamese New Year or Tet/ Tet Nguyen Dan is the most important and meaningful. It is the transition moment between the old year and the new year, representing the cohesion of the community and family, and featuring the deep spiritual and cultural values of Vietnamese people. Tet changes year by year depending on the lunar calendar. However, it usually falls from late January to early February on the solar calendar.

Vietnamese New Year Traditions and Celebrations

Tet is the time for all children and family members to come back home, show respect and gratitude to ancestors and parents, and stay connected with family. It is also an opportunity for everyone to show their care for relatives, friends, and neighbors who are important in their lives. Tet is the downtime to reflect on the difficulties and challenges of the past year and set new goals for next year.

There are still questions about the real origin of Tet. Some argue that Tet is affected by Chinese culture while others believe Tet started in the first century AD in Vietnam and before the Chinese domination of Vietnam for 1000 years. No matter the origin, Vietnamese New Year still has its own cultural beauty and national traditions.

There are plenty of traditions throughout Tet. All represent a well-preserved culture and carry an important meaning in the Vietnamese mind. Let's learn about New Year traditions over time to understand more about Vietnamese culture and people in the following!

23rd December (Friday 02 Feb, 2024)

Worship ông Công ông Táo (Kitchen God Day)

Altar decoration for Kitchen God Day in Vietnam - Photo: @thanhtamnhabao/ Instagram

Kitchen God Day is one of the most important traditions of Vietnamese New Year. It is related to the legend of ông Công ông Táo, the kitchen gods who govern all family matters. December 23 is said to be the day the gods completed their tasks in a year and returned to heaven to report to the Jade Emperor.

On this day, families will clean the altar and place delicious dishes, fruits, and offerings such as paper clothes and paper hats as luggage for the gods on their way to heaven. They also burn incense, paper hats and clothes, and release carp into the river to complete this ritual.

24th - 29th December (03-08 Feb, 2024)

Visit ancestors' graves

Tet is an opportunity to reunite and remember one's roots. Therefore, visiting ancestors' graves is always an essential and must-do thing. People will clean the grave and place offerings such as fruits, fresh flowers, and incense on it. This shows gratitude and a ritual to invite ancestors to join Tet with the family.

Wrap Chung Cake / Tet Cake

Chung Cake - Photo: @mmbonappetit/ Instagram

Chung Cake and Tet Cake are the spirits of Tet. These traditional cakes express respect for the sky, the earth, and the ancestors. Chung Cake is popular in the North while Tet Cake is popular in the South and Centre. Wrapping Chung or Tet Cake includes many steps from preparing ingredients to wrapping, and cooking. As a result, it requires many people in the process and creates an occasion for all family members to gather and share a festive atmosphere together.

Chung Cake and Tet Cake are used in the Tet feasts and can be stored for 1-2 weeks. Therefore, depending on each family's schedule, the time for making Chung / Tet Cake can be 26 - 28 December in the Lunar Calendar.

Clean and decorate the house

House decoration for TET - Photo: @wildflowerbyivy / Instagram

New year is a new beginning. Cleaning and decorating the house not only makes the house neater and more beautiful for the biggest holiday of the year, but also cleans up old things, removes unlucky and bad things of the old year, and welcomes a new year full of new and lucky things. Decorations such as Happy New Year letters, flashing lights, lanterns, and New Year couplets are sold everywhere in Vietnam at the beginning of the lunar December.

Buy fresh flowers and traditional trees

Vietnamese people are choosing peach blossom - Photo@nguyenhongnhungzzz/ Instagram

If most Northern houses have a kumquat tree and peach blossom tree during Tet, Apricot blossom is the favorite traditional tree in the South. Traditional trees bring a festive ambiance to the house and represent the wish for luck in the new year. The more fruits the kumquat tree has, and the more flowers the apricot and peach blossom tree has, the more fortune and prosperity the new year will bring.

Prepare five-fruit tray

Prepare fruits for lunar new year - Photo:@zoe.dezoe

Besides fresh flowers, traditional dishes, and other decorations, a five-fruit tray is an indispensable item on the ancestral altar during the Vietnamese New Year.

Each region has different ways of displaying five-fruit trays and types of fruit. However, it must include 5 types of fruits. Regarding ancient beliefs, the number five (5) symbolizes life and the odd numbers symbolize development and proliferation. That's why the five-fruit tray can represent the wish for the sustainable harmony of yin and yang and a new year of peace, luck, wealth, health, and longevity.

30th December (Friday, 09 Feb 2024)

Year-end ritual

Last meal of the year and Family reunion - Photo: @hollycancook/ Instagram

On the last day of the year, there will be 2 important ritual ceremonies. One is a year-end ritual to give offerings and the other is the New Year's Eve ritual. The year-end ritual is celebrated before the New Year's Eve ritual and is usually in the evening. People will prepare a hearty dinner with more sumptuous dishes than usual days and place them on the ancestor's altar. This is to invite ancestors to enjoy Tet with the family. After the ritual, every family member gathers and has a nice dinner time and talks about the old year and plans for the upcoming year.

New Year's Eve ritual

Preparing food for New Year’s Eve ritual - Photo:@amy.eatz / Instagram

At the transition moment of the old year and the new year, a New Year’s Eve ritual will be celebrated. The offering tray must be prepared before 0:00 on January 1st and placed both on the altar inside the house and outside of the house. The outdoor ritual is to say farewell to the God who took care of the people in the old year and welcome the new God. The indoor ritual is to worship ancestors and the Gods who govern the affairs of each house.

The offerings usually include red sticky rice (xoi gac), boiled chicken, five fruits, betel, areca, wine, tea, Chung cake/ Tet Cake, candies, incense, flowers, candles, etc.

Xong dat

New year in Hanoi - Photo:@bi_ve_ / Instagram

“Xong dat” is very important in Vietnamese culture. It is the visit of the first guest in the new year and is believed to decide the fortune of the host's family for the whole year. That's why each host always asks for a trusted person who has good morals, good health, and success to enter the house first as soon as New Year's Eve to wish for luck and good things in the new year.

1st January (Saturday 10 Feb, 2024)

Visit relatives and give lucky money on Father’s side

Children give lucky money - Photo: @traart.paris/ Instagram

Visiting relatives in the New Year is a long-lasting tradition in Vietnam. On January 1, Vietnamese often gather together to come to other family members' houses to send gifts, give lucky money, and present best wishes. The first day of the year is usually to visit relatives on Father's side and the second day is on Mother's side.

In the new year, the children and grandchildren often wish their grandparents and elders good health. The adults also return the wishes along with lucky money to wish them peace, luck, and success in their studying and work.

2nd January (Sunday 11 Feb, 2024)

Visit relatives and give lucky money on Mother’s side

Visit and wish good health to grandparents - Photo:@mimigauriat / Instagram

Similar to the first day, Vietnamese will send wishes and lucky money for family members and relatives on Mother’s side on the second day of the year. However, it is not compulsory to wait until the second day. After visiting all the relatives on father's side, Vietnamese can come to visit relatives on mother's side right on the first day.

3rd January (Monday 12 Feb, 2024)

Visit Teachers, Friends, Other Relatives, and Neighborhoods

Tet is good time to meet friends and relatives - Photo: @imsimple_andy/ Instagram

Respecting teachers is one of the essential Vietnamese traditions. After worshiping ancestors and wishing New Year to grandparents and parents, Vietnamese often visit their teachers, present gifts, and wish them good health in the new year on the 3rd day. Besides, it is also the time to meet friends and visit further relatives and neighbors to stay close together.

Go to the temple/pagoda

People go pagoda on Tet - Photo@phuongbao697 / Instagram

The 3rd of January is when everyone has almost completed all the house affairs on the father and mother's sides, so it is a good time for family members to hang out, and have short trips together including going to the pagodas/temples. Vietnamese go to pagodas or temples not only to show respect to Buddha, gods, and ancestors and pray for luck and prosperity but also to gain peace of mind and orient to good things in the new year.

Ask for calligraphy letters

Word giving on Tet - Photo: @emilyypinkyy /Instagram

While going to the pagoda or joining some festivals on Tet, asking for calligraphy letters is a favorite thing to do for Vietnamese. Meaningful letters are held in the house to pray for good things in the new year. Each person has different wishes so they can ask for different words such as peace, luck, happiness, wealth, health, etc.

15th January (Saturday 24 Feb, 2024)

Worship the first full moon of the year - Tet Nguyen Tieu

First full moon in Hoian - Photo: @soaipham/ Instagram

The very first full moon of the year is also called Tet Nguyen Tieu or Tet Thuong Nguyen. It is one of the 4 vital full moon days of the year in Vietnam (15th January, 15th April, 15th July and 15th October). On this day, people often go to pagodas and attend ceremonies to relieve evil spirits and pray for peace for the whole year. They also worship their ancestors, heaven and earth, and pray for a new year with pleasant weather and abundant harvest.

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