Celebrated during late January and early February, the Tet Festival marks the start of spring and the end of winter in the Lunar calendar.
Tet is an abbreviated form of Tết Nguyên Đán which, when translated from Vietnamese, means ‘The Feast of the First Morning of the First Day’. This three-day celebration actually lasts up to an entire week due to the slew of festivities and extended preparations locals do to welcome the beginning of a new cycle of the universe while saying goodbye to the old.
What do locals do?
Besides the customary drinking, eating, and merry socializing, the weeks that lead to the Festival finds locals cleaning and at times repainting their homes. The intent of these flurry of cleansing activities is to rid homes of the previous year’s bad luck. Good fortune is welcomed in by flowering peach trees which symbolize positive promises for the coming spring. Ancestral altars are also presented with five different kinds of local fruits as well as votive papers. Beautiful flowers such as marigold, chrysanthemums, lavenders, paper white flowers, Mao Ga flowers, and kumquat trees also adorn houses.
Good deeds are also done. Disputes are forgiven. One treats another generously. Debts are settled. Some people get haircuts. Kids promise to behave well and thus they receive small red envelopes filled with coins. People wear new clothes. Kitchens are filled with tons of food to symbolize the coming of good things.
What do locals eat?
The festival is the best time to enjoy Vietnam’s culinary treats and delicacies. Locals serve banh chung or steamed square cake. Vietnamese ham or sausage or gio cha are also devoured. Xoi or sticky rice are aplenty, so is steamed chicken or thit ga. Visitors are heartily served with dried fruits and seeds called mut. These fruits and seeds are delicately served inside ornate boxes and placed in the living room table.
What do locals wear?
Red and yellow are the usual colors locals wear proudly and brightly. These colors are seen to represent good fortune and prosperity. The traditional lion dance or mua lan, with its similarly bright red and gold hues, graces Vietnam’s busy streets. These colourful performances are accompanied by drums, gongs, bells, and noisy firecrackers all of which are believed to drive off evil spirits.
The sacredness of the Tet Festival
Locals believe the Test Festival is the most sacred festival in Vietnam. Its importance has been hailed as equal to customary celebrations enjoyed in other parts of the world such as Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas. Vietnam’s unique practices, arts and crafts, amusements, and one-of-a-kind food are showcased in this annual event. Locals also make it a time to visit friends, family, and thus pay respects to their ancestors by giving them offerings. Going to shrines and pagodas are also practiced. It is one way for the Vietnamese to pay holy homage to their gods.
What to do when you’re a visitor?
Do book in advance prior to the Tet Festival. Expect flights to be filled weeks before this grand event. This is one of the most highly celebrated festival in Vietnam thus numerous shops, offices, attractions, and restaurants are closed for the entire three days of the fest. Plan your itinerary carefully and take all these information into thoughtful consideration.