Lunar New Year in Vietnam - the most important festival

The Lunar New Year or Vietnamese New Year [Tết Nguyên Ðán], often abbreviated Tet [Tết], is the most important popular holiday in Vietnam. During this time, throughout the country, families gather and honor their ancestors, while praying for good luck, prosperity, and health for the new year. If you're visiting Vietnam during the Lunar New Year, here's what you can expect!

A new start

Tet marks the first day of the Lunar New Year and the beginning of spring in northern Vietnam. This holiday dates back to the early days of Vietnamese colonization in the Red River Delta [Sông Hồng], one of Vietnam's main rice-producing regions in the north. Tet then corresponded to the beginning of a new rice cultivation cycle.
Today, the meaning of this holiday goes far beyond its agricultural roots: it is for every Vietnamese to celebrate a new beginning, surrounded by family and loved ones. Note that Vietnamese workers usually have three days off for this event!

Preparations for Tet in Vietnam

Throughout Vietnam, preparations for Tet begin two to three weeks in advance, with cleaning, decorating and beautifying of the house being an integral part of the event. Vietnamese buy new clothes, get haircuts, prepare special dishes, buy flowers and wash their vehicles.

In addition, every home and office is decorated with signs reading Chúc Mừng Năm Mới! [Happy New Year!]. Kumquats, the shrub that produces round or oval citrus fruits of the same name with yellow-orange skin and tangy flesh, are installed in Vietnamese homes. These small fruits are a symbol of prosperity. The name "kumquat" is derived from the Cantonese gam-gwat [gām-gwāt], which literally means "golden orange".

Peach trees adorned with pink flowers (symbolizing love and joy) and apricot trees dressed in yellow flowers (symbolizing luck and prosperity) also find their way into homes.

As Tet approaches, the streets of Vietnamese cities are abuzz with excitement as colorful shrubs are carried on the backs of motorcycles: a festive spirit takes over the country!

The tradition of the small red envelopes

The days before Tet, the markets and streets are crowded with shoppers. Busy housewives buy paper garlands and other decorations in red and gold colors, especially in the effigy of the animal that will be honored during the whole lunar year to come. Each lunar year is represented by one of the twelve signs zodiac: rat, buffalo, tiger, cat, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

Vietnamese people also don't forget to buy [Bao lì xì ], those lucky red envelopes that are usually given by the elders to the youngest members of the family (or by the managers to the employees)... after having been filled with some strings! It is a sign of maturity for young Vietnamese to stop receiving these envelopes and start giving them.

Festive Cuisine 

Food is an important part of the celebrations. The traditional Tet dinner is an opportunity for family members to get together and talk about the past year.

Each region has its own version of this festive meal. In the north, nem [Nem rán] or [Chả giò], Banh chung [Bánh chưng] and whole boiled chicken are must-try dishes. In the south, the menu will include caramelized pork, bitter melon soup and chicken salad, among others.

Banh chung  - the King's cake

Particularly popular, especially in the north of the country, Banh chung is a culinary specialty linked to Tet celebrations. This square cake made of glutinous rice, usually stuffed with mung beans and pork belly and wrapped in dong leaves, would find its origins in the time of the sixth Hung kings, the kings to whom we owe the foundation of the first kingdom of Vietnam from 2879 B.C.

Note that every year, the Hung Kings' Temple Complex [Khu Di tích lịch sử Đền Hùng] located in Viet Tri [Thành phố Việt Trì] in Phu Tho province [Tỉnh Phú Thọ] hosts several million pilgrims who come to commemorate these founding kings.

Where to celebrate the Lunar New Year in Vietnam?


The Quang Ba Flower Market [Chợ hoa Quảng Bá], located a short walk from the Western Lake [Hồ Tây], is a particularly busy place during the week leading up to Vietnamese New Year. Here you can watch shoppers bundled up against the cold (at this time of year, the temperature in Hanoi can reach... 14°C in the early morning!) in search of the most colorful shrubs.

The alleys of the old part of the city, where hundreds of makeshift altars appear on the sidewalks, loaded with offerings of fruits and boiled chicken, are also particularly lively. Are you a foodie? Stop by the family-run Quốc Hương store on Hàng Bông Street, which has been making and selling Banh chung for over 200 years!

Ho Chi Minh City 

The Nguyen Hue Street Flower Festival [Đường hoa Nguyễn Huệ] hosts Vietnam's largest flower show every year for a few days before Tet. Join the crowd and discover dozens of varieties of flowers from all over the country, which are displayed amidst original decorations blending tradition and modernity.

Notes for a trip at the approach of Tet

Knowing that the traffic especially in the big cities of Vietnam is very very dense in the approach of Tet Nguyen Dan, it is advisable to prepare well for travel days before the date. Transportation may double 1 month and even triple 1 week before Tet. The traffic issue at home is even more challenging as the volume of private vehicles in Vietnam is increasing exponentially this year. 

Be more patient if you have to drive during this period in two big cities like Hanoi and Saigon. This is the time when millions of employees return to celebrate Tet with their families in their home country.

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