Understanding TET Traditions of Vietnam
Wrapping Chung Cake & Bringing home the New Year’s Tree (26 - 28 Lunar Dec)
Decorating the house is an important Tet ritual and the most famous decorations are blossoming fruit trees. Around the 26th of the last lunar month, Vietnamese cities and markets are flooded with fruit blossom and kumquat trees. You’ll see them lining the streets and comically strapped to the back of motorbikes. It’s an old tradition that represents fertility and prosperity and signals a bountiful year ahead.
Banh Chung are thick cakes of rice filled with stewed meat or eggs and wrapped in banana leaves. They are boiled for up to 24 hours so the essence of the banana leaves soaks into the rice. For many Vietnamese people, Banh Chung is the quintessential Tet food. They are given as gifts to colleagues and friends and a good New Year’s dinner wouldn’t be complete without a Banh Chung or two on the side. Wrapping and cooking the Banh Chung has become an important part of the Tet holiday. It takes many hours to cook Chung cakes and a good time for sharing stories and news.
Stocking up on supplies and buying New Clothes (29 Lunar December)
Stocking up on supplies for the New Year meal - Most markets and food stalls are closed over Tet so families have to buy all of the food they need and get it cooked before the markets close. Families make a last-minute dash for the markets to buy all the ingredients they need for the traditional Tet feasts. Women of the household will typically spend the evenings making slow-cooked soups and stocks, storing away cured meats and preparing fruit and veg.
Buying New Clothes - A new year needs new clothes, particularly if you’re a child. Just like Vietnamese don’t want to start the new year with a house full of last years dust and bad luck, they don’t want to start the new year with clothes that might still be clinging to the old year’s bad luck. In the last few days of the new year, city centres are heaving with people looking for new outfits for them and their children so they can start the New Year new and fresh.
Family Time & Giao Thua - New Year's Eve (30 Lunar December) Family time
Lunar New Year’s Eve is the real start of Tet for most families. Parents will eagerly await for family members to return from their work or studies in big cities and the streets are throbbing with people hurrying to complete last-minute preparations. Over the next few days, shops will be closed and families will spend all their time relaxing with each other and visiting friends and relatives.
Herbal Baths - In the lead up to Tet families have purified their homes, paid off any outstanding debts and bid farewell to the Kitchen God. Just before the new year starts, it’s time to purify themselves. Many Vietnamese people believe bathing in water treated with medicinal herbs washes away all of the previous year's misfortune and sets them up for a clean and prosperous
New Year. New Year’s Eve (Giao Thua) is a sacred tradition of saying good-bye to the previous year and welcoming New Year. At midnight, people offer both indoor and outdoor ceremonies. The open-air ceremony is made to send thanks to gods. The offering simply includes a boiled chicken or a pig head, cooked rice, flowers, fruit, beverage and Joss paper. Right after that, the indoor ceremony takes place. People light up incense on the altar and whisper to invite the spirit of ancestors to come back home, celebrating the Tet holiday with the whole family and wishing for a great new year. After Tet Holiday, another ceremony will be offered for ancestors’ departure to Heaven.
New Year (1st Lunar January)
The first day of Tet is reserved for the immediate family. Children wear their new clothes, give their elders the traditional Tet greetings before receiving the lucky money from them in exchange. The traditional greetings are “Chúc Mung Năm Moi” (Happy New Year) and “Cung Chúc Tân Xuân” (gracious wishes of the new spring). People also wish each other prosperity and luck. Common wishes for Tet include Song lâu trăm tuoi (long life of 100 years): used by children for elders. Traditionally, everyone is one year older on Tet, so children would wish their grandparents health and longevity. During subsequent days, people visit relatives and friends. Traditionally but not strictly, the second day of Tet is usually reserved for friends, while the third day is for teachers, who command respect in Vietnam. Local Buddhist temples are popular spots as people like to give donations and to get their fortunes told during Tet.
The Second Day of Tet (Mong 2 – Tet Me) (2nd Lunar January)
The first day of Tet really is for immediate families and families living in the same home. The second day is for extended family. The whole family will ride their bikes, cars or bicycles to their auntie’s, uncle’s, brother’s or sister’s homes to feast all over again, enjoy a few cheeky drinks and hand out lucky money to the kids. People are careful to pay homage to the ancestors shrines at their relative’s homes and they offer a second round of offerings on their own family shrine.
The Third Day of Tet (Mong 3 – Tet Thuy) (3rd Lunar January)
The Third Day of Tet is for visiting family, friends and teachers. In years gone by this meant visiting their homes and enjoying another tet feast. In recent years more and more businesses have opened on the third day allowing people to meet at restaurants, in coffee shops and at Tra Da stands all over the cities. At the end of the third day, the head of the household makes the final offering on the family shrine and everyone gets ready for the biggest meal of the year.
The Biggest Meal of the Year (Hoá Vàng) (4th Lunar January)
The last day of Tet is seen off with a bang as the 12 days of Vietnamese New Year Traditions come to a close. All of the special papers and food placed on the family altar over the past three days are collected in one place. The paper is burned as prayers and wishes are recited, sending the offerings into the other world. The food from the altar is added to a huge feast which can last several hours. Expect to see people setting up shrines outside their homes and parties spilling out of restaurants and homes onto the streets.