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Vietnam Lunar New Year

Among all the festivals in Vietnam, TET of the lunar New Year is the biggest celebration and the most important one for Vietnamese. This is a chance for family reunion, paying tribute to ancestors, enjoying delicious food and praying in pagodas and temples. Everything will be closed for at least 4 or 5 days of the New Year so it is often recommended that tourists should avoid that time when travelling in Vietnam because there can be a lack of good service. However, lets prepare and arrange your tours well beforehand, this time can be an once-in-a-lifetime experience for you to know deeper about the charming culture of Vietnam.

Tet Vietnam Lunar New Year

The lunar New Year, also called Tết cả (Grand Tết) lasts from the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month (Kitchen God Festival) to the 14th day of the first month when the ceremony of lowering the Tet pole is held. It is the most important festival of the year, the traditional feast of the Viet family. Customs include offerings to the house spirits, installation of the Tet pole to drive away evil spirit; exchange of greetings among members of the nuclear and extended family; visits to relatives, neighbors and teachers; veneration of ancestors; the preparation of foods such as Banh Chung, Banh Tet, and fruit trays for the ancestral altar; offering peach flowers (in the North) and apricot flowers (in the South); baths with water of fragrant leaves; wearing of fine clothes; firecrackers; and Tet paintings. Near midnight on the 30th day of the 12th lunar month, the eve of Tet (giao thua), the head of the household picks a twig from any tree in the garden and plants it in a flower pot. If the twig keeps well through Tet, it brings good luck. Twigs are also placed in the courtyard of temples. Sweeping house during the Tet Festival is avoided (to maintain good luck), as are any foul words.

Read more: Top traditional cakes to try when travelling to Vietnam

Peach flowers - Vietnam Tet

Tet pole (cay neu ngay Tet): A pole is planted in the front yard of communal houses, pagodas, and private houses, at a time between the Kitchen God Festival on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month, and the eve of Tet. This pole is a long trunk of bamboo with leaves only at the top, to which are tied clay chimes, lanterns, and streamers. The legend of the Tet pole is as follows: Once upon a time a man tilled the devil’s fields. The devil demanded as a tithe everything that grew at the root of the plant. Following Buddha advice, the man planted rice. The next year, the devil demanded everything that grew at the top of the plant. Following Buddha advice, the man grew potato. The year after, the devil demanded everything that grew at the top and at the root of the plant. The man listened to Buddha and planted corn. Disappointed. The devil refused to lease his land any longer. Advised by Buddha, the man proposed to trade 2 baskets of corn for a plot of the devil’s land stretching as far as the shadow of a priest’s robe.

The devil agreed to the exchange. The man hung the robe on the top of a stalk of bamboo that Buddha made grow as high as the clouds, which cast the robe’s shadow over all the devil’s land. Deprived of his land, the devil went to live in the sea. He asked permission to return to his land at every Tet to visit the tombs of his ancestors. To protect themselves from the devil, people plant the Tet pole. At its base a bow and an arrow are drawn with chalk, to frighten the devil. The Tet pole symbolizes the cosmic tree; it is planted to receive the male principle (Duong or Yang) of spring. The Tet celebrations are closed with the ceremony of dismanting the pole (Le Khai Ha). On this occasion, offerings are presented to the ancestors, to spirits of the earth including spirits of the house and of weath (Than Tai). Business people present large offerings. The ceremony usually take place on the 7th day of the first lunar month because, in accordance with ancient Chinese writings, the first days of the year correspond respectively to the chicken, dog, pig, goat, buffalo, the house and to humans.

Tet Holiday Vietnam

Tet markets (cho Tet): During the 12th lunar month, all markets become more crowded selling articles for the Tet festival which formerly comprised popular prints, firecrackers, leaves and bamboo strips for wrapping sticky rice cakes (banh Chung), parallel sentences written on red papers, votive paper objects, cakes and sweets. As Tet approaches, flowers, ornamental plants, apricot or peach tree branches are sold. In some markets (Dong Market in Ha Nam, Phu Giay Market in Nam Dinh), people come to sell anything, at any price to get rid of bad luck from the previous year. In central provinces from Ha Tinh to Hue, people bring goods to the market, crying “Who wants to buy these silly things?” without waiting for an answer.

Tet Holiday Vietnam

Tet vigil (Le Tru Tich): On New Year’s Eve, the deity in charge of the old year is believed to transfer his duties to the deity of the coming year. The term Giao Thua means” to transfer and to accept”, and midnight is exactly the time when the old year ends and the new year starts. Hence the Tet vigil to chase off misfortunes of the old year and welcome good luck and fortunes of the new year. Offerings are placed on the ancestral altar and set outdoors on a separate altar. In the communal house and in temples, offerings of pig’s heads, boiled chicken, square sticky rice cakes, fruit, betel leaves and areca nuts, liquor, and votive papers are placed on an open-air altar. At midnight, to the sounds of drums and gongs, the master of ceremonies and the people pay tribute to the village tutelary God in the communal house. Each family holds similar ceremonies to their ancestors and to the spirits of the house. People then leave the house, choose a favourable direction, to gather flower buds to take to the pagodas and temples for good luck.

Tet calligraphy Vietnam Holidays

Tet calligraphy (khai but): Teachers, scholars and mandarins followed a ritual of taking the brush to write the first characters for the New Year. The calligrapher must first choose an auspicious day, offer symbolic presents (incense, flowers) to the saints and the Confucius sages and write on special flowered paper the sentence: Xuân vương chính nguyệt sơ nhật.. khai bút đại cát (Today, on the first day of the first month of spring, I am taking up my pen with great happiness). The paper was afterwards hung near the place where the writer was sitting. Many scholars composed poems on this occasion.

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