Home World NewsVietnam How to Experience Vietnam’s Vibrant Tet Holiday Like a Local

How to Experience Vietnam’s Vibrant Tet Holiday Like a Local

by 9999biz.com
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Tết Nguyên Đán, or Lunar New Year, is the most important festival in Vietnam. It is a time when people all over the country come together with their families and pay respect to their ancestors, while wishing for good fortune, wealth and health in the coming year.

The official holiday may last only a week, but the Tết festivities go on for much longer. If you are planning to visit Vietnam during Lunar New Year, this is what you can look forward to.

A new beginning Tết marks the first day of the Lunar New Year, and the start of spring in the North of Vietnam. The origin of the holiday goes back to the ancient times of Vietnamese settlements in the Red River Delta, when Tết was associated with a new cycle of wet rice farming. Nowadays, the significance of the holiday goes beyond its agricultural roots: Vietnamese culture values the importance of a lucky new start, surrounded by family and friends.

Getting ready

Preparations for Tết start weeks before the holiday, as cleaning, decorating, and beautifying is a big part of the tradition. Vietnamese buy new clothes, get new hairdos, make special dishes, purchase flowers, and even clean their motorcycles. Each home and office will adorn with signs of ‘Chúc Mừng Năm Mới’, and kumquat trees or peach blossoms will be placed in a prominent spot. The larger the kumquat trees, the more prosperity and health the family will enjoy in the new year. Streets are filled with colour as these trees are carried on the back of motorbikes. As the holiday approaches, a festive mood takes over the country.

TIP: Tết celebrations start three days before Lunar New Year and continue for a few days after. It is advisable to avoid travelling around Vietnam during this period, as transport hubs will be crowded and tickets may be unavailable. In 2021, the first day of the Lunar New Year is Friday, February 12.

Shopping spree

In the days leading up to Tết, markets and streets are bustling with shoppers. Busy homemakers pick up foil, paper garlands, and lucky red and gold decorations shaped like fish, coins, firecrackers, and flowers. Each lunar year is represented by a zodiac animal, as shown in shiny stickers or on paper lanterns. Locals bring home piles of red bao lì xì – lucky money envelopes – which are traditionally given by elders to younger members of the family, or by bosses to employees. It is a mark of maturity for young Vietnamese to stop receiving lì xì and start giving it instead.

Holiday cuisine

Food — especially the Tết cake bánh chưng — is a crucial part of the celebrations. According to legend, the last Hùng King could not choose which of his sons would inherit the throne, so he held a contest to see which son could bring him the best dish in the world. One son stood out, as he offered these two savoury rice cakes symbolising heaven and earth. These simple dishes impressed the king who then crowned him the successor. Across Vietnam, families will sit down to a day-long banquet, and present candied fruits in lovely boxes for guests to savour.

TIP: In Hanoi, you can find bánh chưng at the Quốc Hương Shop on Hàng Bông Street, which has been selling these cakes for 200 years.

A traditional Tết dinner is a special occasion for family members to gather and chat about the previous year. Each region has its own version of the meal. In the North, nem (fried spring rolls), bánh chưng (sticky rice cake), and whole boiled chicken are some of the main dishes. A Southern Tết meal consists of caramelised pork, bitter melon soup, and chicken salad, among others. Many dishes represent the overcoming of difficulties, as well as new hope for the new year.

Tet holiday guide for visitors

  • Many people will travel to their hometowns for the Tết holiday, making bus, train and plane tickets, as well as hotel rooms, hard to find. If you need to travel during this period, try to arrange transportation and accommodation well in advance.
  • Since many staff will go home to their families, businesses and restaurants usually close for at least the first few days of Tết. Expect cities to be calm during this time, as well as few dining and shopping choices.
  • The first few days of Tết are a unique opportunity to see Vietnam’s big cities free of noise and traffic. Make use of the quiet and discover by bicycle, scooter or on foot.
  • You may be welcomed into a family’s home for Tết which is a great honour. During Tết, it’s essential not to visit any Vietnamese home without an invitation, as the first guests of the year are carefully selected to bring good luck to each household.
  • Warm greetings are much valued around and during Tết. On the first days of the new year, smile and say “Chúc Mừng Năm Mới” (Happy New Year) to everyone you meet!

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