The TET (Tet Nguyen Dan) festival
It is the most important holiday in Vietnam, the New Year’s Tet – Tet Nguyen. It is also called Tet ta = our Tet to distinguish it from the Western New Year.
The date of Tet, the lunar new year
Because of the calculation made by the lunisolar calendar, Tet often takes place at the end of January or beginning of February, later than New Year’s Day.
Indeed, the date of the lunar New Year depends on the lunisolar calendar which is used in Vietnam in addition to the solar calendar. The date of Tet therefore varies each year on the solar calendar (used in France). We devote a complete article on to explain all about the calendars here.
The importance of the TET festival in Vietnam
The Nguyen Dan Tet festival is the only occasion in the year for a reunion of the whole family, the ancestors, and the protective genies. All family members, wherever they may reside or work, are expected to return home to spend the Tet festival with their families. The souls of all the ancestors are invited to return with their descendants; all the tutelary and protective genies have their altars watched over with solicitude.
The Tet is a real gathering. The communal character of the Tet festival is manifested in the custom of wishing each other a good year – “Mung Tuoi” – which literally means: rejoicing and congratulating oneself on one’s age. Traditionally, in Vietnam, there is no birthday party: everyone is a year older at the new year, i.e. at Tet.
Preparing for Tet
Finally, during the TET festival, all the houses must be well decorated, a branch of peach blossom or a pot of prunus, a pot of chrysanthemums, a foot of red roses, or scarlet azaleas to give more brightness to the festival.
Don’t forget to clean the ancestor’s altar, and to arrange the pink and green porcelain tea sets on top of the sideboard. Then clean the box for the sweets, glue golden paper under the glasses of the betel box!
In the garden, we have to change the water in each container, straighten each leaf, put small pieces of wood between the plants to prevent them from touching each other…
Traditional trees are used to decorate the house during the festivities, it is a bit like our Christmas tree!
The decorations used to celebrate Tet vary according to the family and the region.
Kum Quat :
The green leaves of the kumquat and the golden fruits are a sign of wealth, of the new year heralding a good harvest, prosperity, and abundant vitality for the new year!
The peach blossom embodies renewal and blossoming. On each flower you can count a hundred blossoms or buds. This flower brings intimacy, joy and hope for a new year full of peace and prosperity.
Apricot tree :
The apricot flower (Ochna integerrima) is the most popular species in the south of the country. This bright yellow, multi-petaled flower symbolises luck, happiness and prosperity for all households. Its colour also brings serenity to the home, as the inhabitants believe. On the other hand, this flower only blooms in spring in a mild climate.
After Tet, these trees are grown in the garden. They can be collected for the next Tet festival.
These three trees have bright, warm colours that reflect the warm, smiling, mischievous Vietnamese people!
The house must be thoroughly cleaned!!
The tea chest, the double bed and the ironwood lounge should be polished with dry banana leaves and not with synthetic products! The brass should be cleaned with wood ash and the brick tiles should be soaked with peanut oil overnight, wiped dry and then shined up one or two days before the party. With all this, time flies!
The Tet is a real gathering. Who says gathering says big meal! The Vietnamese, although very spiritual, do not forget the good food. As the festival approaches, there is a rush in the markets to buy all the necessary food. Then the whole family goes to cook.
The Vietnamese get up at dawn to go shopping for dry or canned food and put it in stock for fear of running out. They will certainly be much more expensive if bought at the last moment. Dry clams, blown fish bladders, abalone, flavour enhancers, asparagus, shark fins…everything has been squeezed into the pantry.
Even that is not enough, we will need a few more roosters and pigs.
Let’s not forget “Mr. Luck” and “Mr. Fortune”, paper decorations to stick on the front door! This will bring us wealth and happiness, no doubt about it!
The market during the TET festival has a truly magical attraction: everything seems more beautiful, everyone is more welcoming and you want to buy everything.
In the days leading up to the festival, the markets are overflowing with flowers, peach branches and plum trees with yellow flowers (cây mai).
The Tet market is the busiest market of the year, people go there to shop, but also to have fun, the Tet market is a measure of the community’s prosperity.
One day before Tet, we gather to make banh chung (traditional sticky rice cakes), and then we stay around the hearth to watch it cooking in the big pot while protecting ourselves from the cold of the end of winter.
Here is a complete article on Banh Chung
During these holidays, young or old, people take advantage of the visit to temples and pagodas to offer themselves calligraphies which give the greatest hope for a new year, peace, health, patience, success…
Indeed, during the Tet period, calligraphy stands are set up all around the temples and pagodas. Calligraphy of your name or that of your loved one is a very popular activity!
Tet New Year’s Eve
As with the Western New Year, the New Year’s Eve meal is a big family meal that has been cooked all day. Nem, fondue, pig, chicken…the meals are as varied as the families are!
The particularity in Vietnam is that before eating, we will present the food to the ancestors so that they can enjoy it. Only after they have served themselves can the family of the earthly world feast.
At midnight, the new year is celebrated with a few prayers. Then, depending on the family, there will be games, dancing and singing!
First day of the year
On the first day of the TET festival, people are happy to look out for vegetation and nature, the hustle and bustle have stopped and the world seems to be returning to a normal life. Everyone is interested in each other, informing each other of events that might happen to each other. One avoids getting angry and lashing out at anyone, even dogs and cats, all in the hope that one’s self, one’s family, one’s country, in the new year will have more wisdom, more health, and will proliferate even more.
Unfounded beliefs are usually born out of a real need. If one did not do so, one would not be at ease because one would risk being pursued by bad luck and bad fortune all year long.
On the first day of the Tet holiday, one must give gifts to one’s relatives. It is absolutely necessary to use one’s memory to extract the names of all relatives, of all relations from near or far, especially those who have done you a service, big or small, to prove one’s friendship, one’s spirit of openness and to put into practice the motto “more friends and fewer enemies”.
It is also an opportunity to show feelings and warm thoughts that one has never had the chance to show throughout a year of incessant work, without a single moment to visit or chat together. Once these obligations have been fulfilled, we are already halfway through the month, and it is the ceremony of the rare gods, and then the New Year’s Eve…