Tet Nguyen Đan, more commonly known by its shortened name Tet, is the most important and popular holiday and festival in Vietnam. It is the Vietnamese New Year marking the arrival of spring based on the Lunar calendar. The name Tet Nguyen Đan is Sino-Vietnamese for Feast of the First Morning.
It takes place from the first day of the first month of the Lunar calendar (around late January or early February) until at least the third day. During Tet, Vietnamese visit their relatives and temples, forgetting about the troubles of the past year and hoping for a better upcoming year. Due to the high regard in which people hold it, Tet, as often as not, is consumed with unique, distinctive colors and flavors. Let’s take a look at some traditions and customs typical of this special holiday in Vietnam.
Banh chung (Sticky square cake)
Banh Chung is a food made from glutinous rice, mung bean and pork, added with many other ingredients. Banh Chung is covered by green leaves (usually banana leaves) and symbolizes the Earth, invented by the prince Lang Lieu from Hung King dynasty. Besides traditional reason, Banh Chung is chosen as the main food for Tet holiday because of it can last long for days in Vietnamese weather (Banh Chung can survive at room temperature for nearly 1 month).
Gio, cha (Vietnamese sausage)
Gio cha (Vietnamese ham/sausage) is another traditional food in Tet holiday, and usually served with Xoi (sticky rice) and Banh Chung. Gio is different from Cha since Gio is boiled and Cha is deep-fried. Cha is also made of lean pork and ingredients, but Cha is not wrapped by leaves and boiled but deep-fried in oil.
Xôi (Sticky rice)
Xoi is also a very important part of Tet holiday in Vietnam, along with Banh Chung, xoi is the main staple foods for Tet holiday. Xoi can be seen in many forms: Xoi Lac (sticky rice with peanuts), Xoi Do Xanh (sticky rice with mung bean), Xoi Gac (sticky rice with special “gac” fruit). Among these types, xoi gac is favorite the most by people because of its special red color – symbolizes the luck and new achievement for the New Year.
Mut (Candied fruits)
Mut Tet (Tet jam) is not a food to serve in a meal during Tet holiday, but more like a snack to welcome guests in this special period. This once-in-year mix of snack is very large in variety, with so many tastes: ginger, carrot, coconut, pineapple, pumpkin, lotus seed, star fruit, etc.
- Traditional customs
Even though many Vietnamese traditions are based on old cultural beliefs that may strike some as a little superstitious, families believe that their activities during Tet must involve happiness, joy, and good luck. Below are some of the popular, long-standing Tet traditional customs that have stood the test of time from generations to generations.
Li xi (lucky money)
The first day of Tet is reserved for the nuclear family. Children receive a red envelope containing money from their elders. This tradition is called mung tuoi (happy new age) in the north and li xi in the south. Usually, children wear their new clothes and give their elders the traditional Tet greetings before receiving the money.
Since the Vietnamese believe that the first visitor a family receives in the year determines their fortune for the entire year, people never enter any house on the first day without being invited first. The act of being the first person to enter a house on Tet is called xong dat, xong nha or dap dat, which is one of the most important rituals during Tet. According to Vietnamese tradition, if good things come to the family on the first day of the lunar New Year, the entire following year will also be full of blessings. Usually, a person of good temper, morality and success will be the lucky sign for the host family and be invited first into the house.
During subsequent days, people visit relatives and friends. Traditionally but not strictly, the second and even painting their home in anticipation of spring, settle old debts and disputes, and pledge to behave nicely and work hard in the new year.
Traditionally, each family displays “Cay neu”, an artificial New Year Tree consisting of a bamboo pole 5 to 6 m long. The top end is usually decorated with many objects, depending on the locality, including good luck charms, origami fish, cactus branches, etc.
At Tet every house is usually decorated by hoa mai – Ochna integerrima (in the central and southern parts of Vietnam) or hoa đào – peach flower (in the northern part of Vietnam) or hoa ban (in mountain areas). In the north or central, the kumquat tree is a popular decoration for the living room during Tet. Its bright orange-colored fruits represent the fertility and fruitfulness that the family hopes for in the coming year.