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Travel Tips

Vietnamese Lunar New Year

Vietnamese Lunar New Year (Tet)

As many TTers asked if they should visit Vietnam over Tet or not, what is the meaning of Tet, here is some information about our traditional customs:

The meaning of “Tet”

Similar to Christmas and (Solar) New Year celebrations, Tet is an occasion for family reunion and merriment after a long year of hard work. For an agrarian community like Vietnam, it is also a short rest period before the hustle and bustle of the coming-on spring harvest. People’s rejoicings also symbolize a warm welcome to the awakening of the mother-soil from her hibernation.

Tet’s customs

A crystallization of a curious mixture of the people’s superstitious beliefs and practical wisdom, Tet’s customs reflect the mentality of our people. The family’s altar must be painstakingly set up with an abundance of offerings perpetually aglow with candle light and wrapped in incense. Our ancestors’ manes are invited home to share with the living of the fruit of the family’s labors.

Luck money

As tokens of well-wishing intentions, some newly-issued bank notes in red envelops are given to children and teenagers on this occasion. Quite a few thrifty children will hoard them in brightly-painted piggy-banks to induce luck throughout the year.

Peach and plum boughs

Peach flowers (in North Vietnam) and plum flowers (in South Vietnam) brighten most living rooms during these days as the embodiment of youth and vitality and hope at the very beginning of a new and thus, hopefully propitious year ahead.

The Kitchen Gods

Residing under the same roof with mortals are 2 gods and 1 goddess who make up a family of their own as 2 husbands and a wife. This odd family pattern might have been conceived as a humorous criticism leveled at polygamy – a common practice in an agrarian society. The Kitchen Gods – as these family gods are called – are believed to be the household guardians protecting the family and keeping a record of its deeds, good and bad alike, to report annually to the Jade Emperor (the Asian counterpart of Greece’s Jupiter). They set off on their heaven-bound mission as early as the 23rd of the 12th lunar month so as to return to their hearth on the New Year’s Eve in time for resumption of their guardianship. On this occasion, householders never fail to burn a paper carp as a “means" of transportation for the gods.

Strings of fire-crackers

Exactly at the stroke of midnight of the New Year’s Eve, fire-crackers everywhere concurrently boom out the old year, warding off evil spirits and bad luck, and clearing the way for a warm welcome to the prosperous and fortunate new year.

(Now fire-crackers were banned, we enjoy the fireworks on the New Year’s Eve)

Red parallel scrolls

On red paper and in gilded characters (Sino or Sino-Vietnamese calligraphy) parallel scrolls are either hung on both sides of the ancestors’ altar, or pasted on the wall to express the owners’ wishes or aspirations for the new year.

Tet’s special foods

Special occasions call for special foods to celebrate. For Tet, a highly seasoned glutinous rice cake (“Banh Chung” in the North, and “Banh Tet” in the South) is a must for the new year feasts. Square in shape to represent our earth, this cake is to be accompanied by another kind of plain rice cake (called “Banh Day”) in round shape to suggest the universe. Even trivial things like foods and drinks are imbued with our ancestors’ cosmic concept.

Water melon

Water melon, which is said to date back to the Hung dynasty (the Hungs being the country’s founding fathers from its misty prehistory), is another must for desserts of the occasion. With its red (the color of good luck), sweet (the taste of success), and juicy (the sign of abundance) pulp, it heightens the merriment of the time.

Some taboos

Watch your language! – Bad, angry words are strictly prohibited for fear that they might bring bad luck throughout the new year. Oddly enough, even the names of some animals are taboos, such as monkey, dog…

Dust not, sweep not! Sweeping the floor, dusting furniture during the period from midnight of the New Year’s Eve to midnight of the New Year’s Day may bring poverty to the family, as money may take leave on the heels of the discarded rubbish.

Behave yourself! For at least 4 days of the New Year celebration, try to put on a smiling face, which happy appearance is most likely to bring good tidings to yourself and those who meet you as well.

Being the first visitor

It is widely believed that the first person to cross the threshold of your house at Tet can somehow determine how you will fare in the new year. Some people are welcome warmly as carriers of good luck while others are invariably stigmatized as unlucky creatures. This has resulted in some people going to great lengths to pre-arrange for the “right person” to be their first visitor of the year – by all standards a risky job indeed.

All in all, Tet is a time for the hard-working Vietnamese to forget – even temporarily – the harsh realities of life, and to give and receive joy and happiness. It is an invigorating break from the grey monotony of routine.

And it will certainly be observed as long as people are still sentient.

Other tips

Travel Tips
What to see in Vietnam
World Heritages
Vietnamese Food
Vegetarian Food
Border crossings Vietnam -Laos
1-2 days in Hanoi
Beer in Vietnam
Traffic Hanoi
Cycling Walking Tips
Cycling in Vietnam
Demilitarized Zone
Diving Clubs in Nha Trang
Fansipan Mountain
Hanoi Bat Trang Local Bus
Hue Vegetarian food
List VN Embassy in China
Ninh Binh
Quan Lan Island Hotels
Red River Cruise
Central Highland
North West Vietnam
To Learn Vietnamese
Travel Overland China Hanoi
Travelling Hue Hoi An
Travelling Vietnam Brunei Darussalam
Vietnamese Lunar Year
Vietnam visa in Nanning
Volunteer Hanoi
Western Medicine Hospita lClinic HCMC
Visit Vietnam 10 days
What to do in Hanoi
Border Crossing Vietnam Cambodia
Cu Lao Cham Island

Useful sites

1. Red Dragon Junk, Cruise Halong Bay: 5 cabin boat on Halong Bay All cruises on Halong Bay Online, Halong bay travel guide, Hanoi Halong Bay Tours, Maps to Halong,
2. Prince Cruise Halong Bay Vietnam: 4 cabin cruise on Halong Bay
3. Jayavarman Cruise on Mekong River Vietnam Cambodia: luxury cruise on the Mekong River
4. Hanoi Airlines: book flight tickets to Hanoi
5. Halong Bay Cruise: list all cruise boats on Halong Bay & Bai Tu Long Bay
6. Hotel Vietnam, Vietnam Hotels: book hotels and resorts in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia
7. Laos Travel Guide: book tours in Laos with the New Road Tour
8. Cambodia Travel: useful guides, hotels, flights, tours in Cambodia
9. Phu Quoc Travel Guide: useful information on Phu Quoc Island Vietnam
10. Travel Sapa Vietnam: tours, hotels, maps to Sapa Vietnam
11. Mekong Delta Tours: cruise, hotels, tours in Mekong, Saigon

Other new travel sites

1. Vietnam Travel Company: First Choice Tours in Vietnam
2. Hue Travel Guide: guide, maps, tours in Hue Vietnam
3. Sapa Travel Tips: Sapa guides, tourist information
4. Mekong River Tours, Mekong Amalotus Cruise, Amalotus Cruise, Amalotus Boat Mekong River
5. Amalotus.com, Amalotuscruise.com, Amalotus Indochina Sails Mekong River
6. Mekong River Boats: Mekong Tours, Mekong River Tours
7. Hoi An Travel Guide: Tours, maps to Hoi An