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What to Know About Tet Holiday, Vietnam's Lunar New Year

Vietnam is one of the Asian countries that observe Lunar New Year as a national holiday. Like Christmas in Western countries, the holiday is the greatest time of the year for family gatherings, making good food, and giving each other the best wishes of luck and prosperity for a new year to come.

Lunar New Year or Tết Nguyên Đán, is Vietnam’s most significant celebration. Across Vietnam, during this time families reunite and honor their ancestors, while praying for luck, prosperity, and health in the new year. The public holiday may only run for one week, but in reality, Tết celebrations last much longer. The start date may fall in the range of late January to mid-February and varies by each lunar calendar year.


Getting ready

Throughout Vietnam, preparations for Tết begin weeks in advance, as cleaning, decorating, and sprucing up are a big part of the holiday tradition. Vietnamese shop for new clothes, get haircuts, cook special dishes, buy flowers, and even wash their motorcycles. Each home and office will decorate with signs of ‘Chúc Mừng Năm Mới’, and kumquat trees or peach blossoms will be set in a place of honor. The bigger the kumquat trees, the more prosperity, and health the family will receive in the new year. Streets burst with color as these trees are transported on the back of motorbikes. In anticipation of the long holiday, a festive spirit takes hold of the country. 



In the days before Tết, markets and streets are jam-packed with shoppers. Busy housewives pick up foil, paper garlands, and auspicious red and gold decorations shaped like fish, coins, firecrackers, and blossoms. Each lunar year is represented by a zodiac animal, as reflected in glossy stickers or on paper lanterns. Locals bring home stacks of red bao lì xì - lucky money envelopes - which are customarily gifted by elders to younger members of the family, or by managers to employees. It’s a sign of maturity for young Vietnamese to stop receiving lì xì and start giving it instead.


bao lì xì - lucky money envelopes

Holiday cooking

A traditional Tết dinner is an important occasion for family members to gather and talk about the past 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 essential dishes. A Southern Tết meal is made of caramelized pork, bitter melon soup, and chicken salad, among other things. Many dishes symbolize the passing of hardship, as well as a new hope for the new year.


Vietnamese Sticky Rice Cake


Coconut products are essential ingredients in making traditional Vietnamese dishes for the Tet holiday. They use coconut water as a broth to cook thịt kho hột vịt (braised pork with eggs) or have coconut milk to make bánh chưng in the North and bánh tét in the South (sticky rice and mung bean cake).

Coconut is one fruit in the five-fruit tray which is on the ancestral altar during the Tet holiday symbolizes the admiration and gratitude of the Vietnamese to Heaven and Earth and their ancestors and demonstrates their aspiration for prosperity.


The original article is posted on the Vietnam Travel website.