Vietnamese New Year (Tet): Traditions, Date & How to Celebrate

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New Year’s celebrations are some of the most important holidays worldwide. They’re an opportunity for us to make resolutions and look back on what we’ve achieved in months passed. 

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Countries that follow the Gregorian calendar, including the United States, celebrate New Year’s Day on January 1 each year. But some countries that have historically observed the lunar calendar, including Vietnam, hold their New Year’s festivals on a different date each year. 

The Vietnamese New Year’s celebration is called Tet, and in many ways, it’s comparable to other Lunar New Year festivals. But Tet is also unique in many ways. 

What is Vietnamese New Year (Tet)? 

Tết Nguyên Đán, or Tet for short, is Vietnam’s New Year. Tet is one of the most important festivals in Vietnam, and it incorporates the country’s rich culture and storied history. 

For the people of Vietnam, Tet is like our New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, and Christmas celebrations all rolled into one extravagant festival.

Tet marks the beginning of spring in Vietnam, as well as the beginning of the new year according to the lunar calendar. 

Technically, there are many Tet festivals throughout the year in Vietnam. But the Tet festival that marks the beginning of a new lunar year is the biggest and most sacred. That’s why the Vietnamese New Year is known worldwide simply as “Tet.” 

Origin

Tet, or the Lunar New Year in Vietnam, is the time of year when winter is coming to an end and spring is beginning. The people of Vietnam have long-held beliefs that, at this time of year, the universe is ending one cycle and beginning another. 

It’s also believed that the first day and week of the lunar new year determines a person’s fate for the year ahead. Therefore, the people of Vietnam often take extra care to start the new year off right. They might be cautious of anything that could bring misfortune. 

Additionally, people usually focus on positivity in relationships and avoid starting arguments. Everyone treats each other more generously, settles their debts, and forgives their differences before and during the Vietnamese New Year. 

Who celebrates

Tet is a national holiday in Vietnam. However, different regions and religions practice slightly different traditions across the country. 

For example, some regions prepare foods based on what’s locally available—like regional fruits and vegetables. Some religions focus on ancestral worship during Tet, while for others, it may be optional. 

» MORE: How do you handle your loved one's final affairs? Get your free post-loss checklist.

 

When is the Vietnamese New Year and How Long Does It Last? 

The Vietnamese New Year takes place at the start of a new lunar year. Although the people of Vietnam observe the solar (Gregorian) calendar, the Solar New Year generally isn’t as important as the Lunar New Year. 

Because the people of China also observe the key dates of the lunar calendar, Vietnamese New Year is on the same date as Chinese New Year

Below are the dates of the first day of Tet in coming years: 

  • 2021: February 12
  • 2022: February 1
  • 2023: January 22
  • 2024: February 10 
  • 2025: January 29

Tet is officially a three-day national holiday in Vietnam. However, including preparations for Tet events, the holiday can stretch up to a week or longer. 

How Do You Wish Someone a ‘Happy New Year’ in Vietnam?

If you’re visiting Vietnam for Vietnamese New Year, it’s a good idea to know how to wish people “Happy New Year” properly. In general, the Vietnamese New Year is a time to wish everyone prosperity and good fortune. 

Some traditional Tet greetings are: 

  • “Chúc Mừng Năm Mới.” - Happy New Year. 
  • “Cung Chúc Tân Xuân.” - Gracious wishes of the new spring.
  • “Sức khỏe dồi dào.” - Plenty of health.
  • “Cung hỉ phát tài.” - Congratulations and be prosperous.
  • “An khang thịnh vượng.” - Security, good health, and prosperity.
  • “Vạn sự như ý.” May many things go according to your will.

Vietnamese New Year Traditions

The Vietnamese New Year is the biggest and most grand celebration in this Asian nation. It comes with many unique traditions, from preparing for the festival and cooking historical dishes to giving gifts and paying respect to the ancestors. 

Preparation

Part of the Vietnamese New Year celebration begins before the date even arrives. In the days or weeks leading up to Tet, Vietnamese households often perform a deep-cleaning. This is thought to rid the home of any bad luck remaining from the previous year. 

Families clear weeds out of their yards, burn incense, and stock the kitchen with food. The streets are typically lined with numerous vendors, providing an assortment of fresh flowers, fruit, and decorations. Family members often reunite in the days before Tet to prepare for the holiday together. 

Decorations

Households across Vietnam are decorated brightly and colorfully for the holiday of Tet. The colors red and yellow are thought to bring good luck, so you’ll typically see these colors everywhere. Additionally, families use a number of flowering plants to represent the new spring. 

These plants have their own symbology. 

Bamboo

The bamboo tree, or cay neu, represents the new year. The family strips the tree of its leaves in preparation for Tet, leaving only the leaves at the crown. They then decorate the tree with red paper and other objects. 

Peach blossom

According to Vietnamese tradition, the peach blossom tree wards off evil spirits. It’s common to display a flowering peach tree in the home to bring good fortune during Tet. 

Kumquat

A kumquat tree represents the many generations of a family. The fruits represent the many members of the family tree

Food

As Tet approaches, people in Vietnam stock their kitchens full of food to prepare for the festival. And while they tend to stock up on nearly everything, there are a few dishes specific to the festival of Vietnamese New Year. 

Pig feet

One of the main traditional dishes served on Tet is pig’s feet stewed with bamboo shoots. Side dishes may include steamed rice, stir-fried almonds, papaya salad, bitter gourd, and mung bean pudding. 

Banh day and banh chung

Banh day and banh chung are two types of traditional cakes prepared during the Vietnamese New Year celebration. They date all the way back to the eighth generation of the first Vietnamese royal dynasty. 

Banh day (or banh giay) is a flat, round, white rice cake. It’s traditionally wrapped in banana leaves and served with a type of Vietnamese sausage. Banh chung is a rice cake made of glutinous rice, pork, mung beans, and other ingredients. 

Mut

Another traditional food associated with the Vietnamese New Year is candied fruit called Mut. These snacks are traditionally served to guests while they wait for the meal to begin. 

Mut generally consists of pumpkins, apples, ginger root, and oranges, as well as other regional plants and fruits. 

Thit Heo Kho

More tropical regions of Vietnam serve dishes with a base of coconut milk and oil. One example of this is Thit Heo Kho: pork stewed in coconut milk. 

Pickled vegetables

Traditional Tet food often comes paired with pickled vegetables, which aid in the digestion of the richer ingredients. Pickled produce may include green sprouts, carrots, turnips, and leeks. 

Gifts

Tet is a time of immense gratitude and generosity. To set the year off on the right foot, individuals and families go out of their ways to give gifts and spread good fortune. 

Symbolic plants

As mentioned above, several plants play a key role in Tet celebrations. Plants like flowering peach and kumquat trees and sell out fast in the days before Tet begins. If you can get your hands on one, a fruit tree like this makes for a valuable Tet gift. 

Money

During Tet, many children receive a gift of money. It comes wrapped in a red envelope, which is thought to ward off evil spirits. The money always comes in even denominations, as odd numbers are thought to bring bad luck. 

Food

One of the most traditional gifts you can give for Tet is the gift of a good meal. Households often invite guests in for a feast and serve snacks—Mut—as the guests wait. 

Dress

The key to dressing for the holiday of Tet is wearing bright colors. Specifically, the colors red and yellow are believed to bring good luck and fortune. Bright blue, green, and other colors are also acceptable. 

The one thing to avoid when dressing for Tet is wearing black and white. Black and white are the colors traditionally worn to a Vietnamese funeral. You should avoid wearing them during the celebratory holiday of Tet. 

Ancestors

Part of ensuring good luck and positive energy in the upcoming year is showing gratitude to the ancestors. That’s why many families and individuals take the opportunity, during their days off for Tet, to visit their loved ones’ gravesites. 

It’s common to see the people of Vietnam cleaning gravestones and tending to the graves of their ancestors during Tet, as well as making offerings to ancestral altars. 

Celebrating Tet Worldwide

Tet is a fascinating festival, and its focus on ancestral worship provides an example of acknowledging death in different cultures

And even if you’re not visiting Vietnam this lunar new year, you can still celebrate the spirit of Tet wherever you are. 

The underlying message of Tet is positivity and ringing in the new year as best you can. Mark this lunar new year by showing gratitude to friends and family—whether living or dead. You can even prepare for Tet with some spring cleaning and by preparing traditional Tet foods. 

If you're looking for more on lunar celebrations around the world, read our guide on the Tibetan New Year, Losar.


Sources

  1. “The meaning of Tet Festival.” Vietnam.com. www.vietnam.com/en/news/article/the-meaning-of-tet-festival.html
  2. “Celebrating Tết: The history of Bánh Dầy & Bánh Chưng.” WKTV Journal. 19 January 2017. now.wktv.org/celebrating-tet-the-history-of-banh-day-banh-chung/
  3. “Tet Nguyen Dan: The Vietnamese New Year.” Queens Botanical Garden. web.archive.org/web/20130527124500/http://www.queensbotanical.org/education/56902/57016/vietnam

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