Yeah, the biggest occasion as well as the time that everyone in Vietnam waits is coming. Indeed, for Vietnamese people, Lunar New Year is the most important traditional festival of the year. However, not everyone is aware of the origins and significance of the festival. If you are planning to visit Vietnam at this special moment, I’m sure this article will give you enough info for your trip. Let’s learn more about the Lunar New Year in Vietnam!

What is Lunar New Year?

The Vietnamese people call Lunar New Year by many names, but the most common one is “Tết Nguyên Đán” or “Tết” for short. Without the tone, it’s going to be “Tet” in English, or as many people who know about Vietnam’s tradition, it’s “Tet holiday”. In Vietnam, Tet holiday is the most important and meaningful celebration.

Understanding “Tết” is a little bit more complicated. So, “Tết” is the Sino-Vietnamese pronunciation of the word “Tiet”, “Nguyên” means the beginning, and “Đán” is early in the morning. Therefore, the correct pronunciation must be “Tiết Nguyên Đán”, which means the beginning morning of a time.

My father's beside his favorite apricot blossoms tree on Tet holiday 2021
My father’s beside his favorite apricot blossoms tree on Tet holiday 2021.

How is the Time of the Lunar Year Calculated?

Lunar New Year in Vietnam is calculated according to the lunar calendar, which is later than the Gregorian Calendar. Due to the rule of 3 leap years and a month of the lunar calendar, the first day of the Lunar New Year is never before January 21 and after February 19 of the Gregorian calendar, but usually falls in the middle of these days.

The length of the Lunar New Year usually lasts about 7 days at the end of the old year and the first 7 days of the new year. People enjoy the Lunar New Year from December 23 to the end of January 7 of the lunar calendar. By the way, the lunar calendar is also known as lunisolar calendar, Xia calendar, Yin calendar, or the Chinese calendar.

Origin of Lunar New Year

Honestly, the Lunar New Year origin is still unknown.

Most information suggests that the Lunar New Year day originated in China and was introduced to Vietnam in 1000 years of Northern domination. That’s why many people also call it Chinese New Year. However, according to the legend of “Banh Chung and Banh Day,” Vietnamese have been celebrating the Tet holiday since the Hung Kings, or before 1000 years of Northern dominance.

The Meaning of Tet holiday

The Lunar New Year is not only a transition period between the old and new lunar years for Vietnamese people, but it also contains many spiritual and cultural meanings. According to the Eastern concept, this is a period of time when heaven and earth were reconciled and people became close to the gods.

The old Lunar New Year was an occasion for farmers to pay their respects to gods such as the Earth god, Rain god, Thunder god, Water god, and Sun god,… The farmers pray to the gods for a year of abundant crops and favorable rain and wind.

Besides that, this is considered a “refreshing” time. A time when people can hope for a peaceful, prosperous, and favorable new year and put aside all bad luck in the old year. Therefore, during the Tet holiday, every house is busy cleaning, shopping, and decorating the house beautifully.

Additionally, this is an opportunity for Vietnamese people to renew themselves emotionally and spiritually. Thus, their relationships with their beloved ones are stronger. Their spirits are also more at ease and joyful. During Tet, families often gather to wish each other New Year’s Eve, light incense sticks together in memory of their grandparents and ancestors, and thank them for their blessing over the past year.

big family gathers every Lunar New Year
My big family on father’s side gathers every Lunar New Year.

Lunar New Year Activities

There are many things to do before and after Lunar New Year’s Eve. Yet, every activity is full of warmth, happiness, and joy which shows the true meaning of this special occasion.

Activities Before Tet Holiday

  • Starting on Jan 23 in the lunar calendar for Kitchen God worship, the feeling of the Tet holiday coming stronger. In Vietnam, the Kitchen God is believed to watch the activities of members in the house. They give luck, peace, and take the house members out of bad things and ghosts. On that day, the Kitchen God will ride a carp back to the sky to report to the Prime God. Therefore, after the worship, Vietnamese people usually buy and release carp fish for this tradition.
  • Until the day of Lunar New Year’s Eve, people come to the grave to clean and worship the ancestors’ tombs. The activity shows how the Vietnamese feel thankful and tribute to the family members who passed away.
  • This is also the time to show gratefulness. People gift Chung cake, Tet cake, candies, wines, specialties, etc. to business partners, clients, and friends as a way of thanks for their support in the past year.
  • The houses, offices, and stores will be cleaned and decorated more beautifully to get ready for a brighter new year. These days, people in South Vietnam usually decorate their houses with yellow apricot blossoms, while people in the North mostly choose peach flowers or kumquats.
A decorated gate for Tet holiday 2021 in my alley
A decorated gate for Tet holiday 2021 in my alley.

Activities During the New Year’s Days

  • In Vietnam, we say “The first day is father’s Tet, the second day is mother’s Tet, and the third day is teacher’s Tet”. It means in the new days of the new year, we spend time visiting our beloved ones. Usually, the whole big family will gather and wish each other good things for the new year. Especially, the lucky money is what the kids wait for the most from their parents, uncles, aunts, and grandparents as the good luck in the year.
  • In the beginning days of the new year, people love visiting the pagodas. They come to pray for luck, prosperity, health, and many good things in the new year. Moreover, some pagodas have lion dance performances to spread out vibrant and positive energy to everyone.
  • Many people travel during the Lunar New Year to relax after a hard-working past year. During the Tet holiday, Vietnamese people usually have 5 – 6 days off. It’s a great chance to have a long trip without taking days-off from the company.

Tet Holiday to Me

I loved Tet holiday a lot. At least, that was what I truly felt about Lunar New Year when I was younger. By doing the activities before Tet, I know that the country’s most special holiday is coming. I followed my parents to visit the ancestors’ tombs, clean up, and worship. I went to the stores to buy new clothes and shoes. My father took me to bring home our apricot blossoms and other flowers for the new year. I helped my mom to clean and decorate the house and altar with fruits and flowers. Yes, there were so many things to do to prepare for the Lunar New Year, but all things go with happiness.

During the first days of the Lunar New Year in Vietnam, my parents always took me to visit everyone in the family. We gathered at my grandpa’s house to have breakfast and give everyone the best wishes for the new year. Then, we moved to the ancestral home to meet the family on my father’s side, give wishes, have lunch, and play games. On top of that, the best part was always the lucky money in a red envelope that every kid wanted, including me.

A picture of my family in the first day of the Lunar New Year 2018 with my grandpa and father
A picture of my family on the first day of the Lunar New Year 2018 with my grandpa and father.

During the rest days of Tet holiday, my parents took me to the pagodas, or we traveled to a place that we hadn’t visited before. Those were truly the most beautiful memories as well as the best moments of the Lunar New Year that I ever had.

The Same Tet, But Another Me

No, I’m still the same, only my thought and feelings about Tet are different. Generally, Lunar New Year is a sacred family time. However, my family is no longer complete, so the Tet holiday is less meaningful to me. My grandpa passed away in 2020. A year later, the person who took me around the city to find and buy beautiful flowers won’t do that anymore. Even though the traditional activities are the same, I don’t feel like I want to do that.

Furthermore, my job is running all year through. Therefore, the days off because of the Tet holiday affect the job’s operation a little bit. Almost businesses don’t work during the Lunar New Year, so I have 6 – 7 relaxing days without thinking about the work. Not sure if it’s good or bad, but I truly don’t like that when my job is running well.

Anyways, I have two cute daughters now. Hopefully, one day, they can bring back to me the same feelings about a warm and happy Lunar New Year as when I was a kid. One day, I will take them around the city to bring home the most beautiful apricot blossoms.

happy lunar new year - gong xi fa cai

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22 COMMENTS

  1. Fascinating and informative post. I didn’t know much about Lunar New Year in Vietnam – but have certainly learned a ton from the post. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I imagine from your writing what a beautiful holiday this can be. The closest I’ve come is enjoying the Chinese New Year decor in Oahu during the lunar new year.

  3. Wow! This coming Lunar New Year will be a blast as many of our fellow Chinese is excited for it! Thanks for sharing this with us, it’s so much fun. Gong Xi Fa Cai!

  4. Wow. I love the colorful celebrations in the Lunar. I will love to experience it.

  5. I have heard a lot about Lunar New Year so I know the traditions are different in different family and it was great to know yours.

  6. So aside from Christmas break, there is the Tet break? Or is there no break during the Christmas season? I like the idea that there are days dedicated to visiting family.

    • Yeah, Christmas is not the main holiday in Vietnam and we don’t have a break. We have Tet break and New Year break.

  7. That’s very interesting, I haven’t heard about Vietnam new year but I know about chinese’s. So, cool to know about this.

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