What is Tet? Things you need to know about the Vietnamese Lunar New Year

Vietnamese people are family -oriented, family is always their top priority. To them, the most meaningful, most fun, most expected occasion of the year is the time that they can reunite and celebrate their big family, and that time is Tet.

Tet is the most important holiday to Vietnamese people

Tet simply is the Lunar New Year celebration, it normally falls on the end of January or the beginning of February. It is the longest, biggest, most important festive occasion in Vietnamese culture, which makes the word “Tet” itself have a more special and exclusive meaning than just the Lunar New Year celebration.

Some people also define Tet as “the migration of the year”. They say this normally as a joke, but it actually reflects the customs of Tet: family reunion. People will travel back to their hometown before Tet, as soon as their vacation begins. It can be parents working far away from home, or kids studying in a different city. The whole family goes back to their grand or great grandparent’s home to celebrate Tet. Everyone is in a rush, packing luggage, shopping for gifts… hoping to see their loved ones as quick as possible after a long time without meeting.

Rushing back to hometown
Tet – the migration of the year

Tet is a big occasion so there are many things to do to prepare for it. First off all, it is the house tidying. People will get rid of old, broken, unnecessary objects, then clean the house thoroughly and organize it with the belief it will give them a fresh beginning of the new coming year.

When the house is neat and organized, they will move to the most important thing: shopping and decorating in Tet themes. People in the cities go to shopping mall, whereas people in the countryside go to “chợ Tết” (Tet market), a typical outdoor market where local farmers sell flowers, fruits, food, ornaments, incense sticks… all the things you would need for Tet. It is common to see people carrying around a branch or a pot of peach blossom (in the North) and apricot (in the South) on the road, that is when you know Tet is around the corner.

Tet market (1990s)
Peach blossom, the spirit flower of Tet in the Northern Vietnam

In some families, they will work together to cook “bánh chưng” (sticky rice cakes), a traditional delicacy of Tet made of sticky rice, pork and mung beans and wrapped in leaves, which makes it have natural green color.

Family gathers and makes sticky rice cakes

In the Vietnamese culture, their ancestor worship plays a crucial part. Tet is the time they memorize their ancestors by a “treating” them with a full altar with offerings. They have flowers, five-fruit trays, sticky rice cakes and boiled chicken, well displayed on the altar. During New Year’s Eve, they burn the incense sticks and start to pray, express their gratitude and pray for happiness to the whole family.

Sticky rice cakes and boiled chicken on the altar

In the Vietnamese language, they say “chúc Tết” (Tet greetings), “ăn Tết” (eat Tet) and “chơi Tết” (play Tet), that are the main activities when Tet comes. The first day of Tet (January 1st, lunar calendar), the whole family gather together and have greetings to each other. Kids in their new clothes come to the old grandparents and parents to express their best wishes and respect, after that they will receive the red envelopes with lucky money inside as a symbol of wishes and blessing from the adults. After that, they will visit their relatives and friends, one by one, talk and eat and laugh and drink, and send their Tet wishes to each other for a good, lucky, happy year ahead.

Kids receive their lucky money

With a lot of activities and customs, Tet is and has been a big part in each Vietnamese individuals life and the entire culture. Tet still remains traditional even though Vietnam has changed a lot along with the modern world.