Vietnamese New Year (Tết )
History of Tết Nguyên Đán
Tết Nguyên Đán, more commonly known by its shortened name Tết, 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, a lunisolar calendar. The name Tết Nguyên Đán is Sino-Vietnamese for Feast of the First Morning, derived from the Hán nôm characters.
It is the time for family reunions, commemoration of ancestors, harmony and exchange of best wishes, special food, new clothes, new beginnings and other festive activities. The few days at the start of the year are the most important days. All activities are undertaken with great care to ensure that people will have happiness, good fortune and longevity throughout the year.
Tết is also an occasion for pilgrims and family reunions. During Tết, Vietnamese visit their relatives and temples, forgetting about the troubles of the past year and hoping for a better upcoming year.
Tết in the three Vietnamese regions can be divided into three periods, known as Tất Niên – Before New Year’s Eve, Giao Thừa – New Year’s Eve, and Tân Niên – the New Year, representing the preparation before Tết, the eve of Tết, and the days of and following Tết, respectively. All of these customs are to celebrate Tết in Vietnam.
In Vietnam, lì xì are typically given to those who are younger as long as they are bachelors. Red envelopes are mainly presented at the TET Lunar New Year. This tradition is called mừng tuổi (happy new age) in the north and lì xì in the south. Usually, children wear their new clothes and give their elders the traditional Tết 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 red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits.
Vietnamese New Year Foods
Bánh Chưng or sticky rice cake is served particularly at Vietnamese New Year’s festival, which occurs during the first three days of the first month of the lunar calendar. It is a square cake, wrapped in banana leaves and tied with lacings of flexible bamboo slivers. It is a very rich food for the interior contains a filling of bean paste to which may be added small bits of pork meat, both fat and lean. This filling, which is amply seasoned, is pressed between layers of glutinous rice.
Rice cake / Bánh Chưng Its square shape is considered a symbol of the thankfulness of the Vietnamese people for the great abundance of the Earth, which has supplied them with nutritious food throughout the four seasons of the year. For more information about Vietnamese Traditional Food please click here
Hạt Dưa: roasted watermelon seeds, also eaten during Tết.
Dưa Hành: Pickled onion and pickled cabbage.
Củ Kiệu: Pickled small leeks.
Mứt: These dried candied fruits are rarely eaten at any time besides Tết.
Cầu Dừa Đủ Xoài – In southern Vietnam, popular fruits used for offerings at the family altar in fruit arranging art are the custard-apple/sugar-apple/soursop (mãng cầu), coconut (dừa), papaya (đu đủ), and mango (xoài), since they sound like “cầu vừa đủ xài” means we pray for enough money to spend in the southern dialect of Vietnamese.
Thịt Kho Nước Dừa Meaning “Meat Stewed in Coconut Juice”, it is a traditional dish of fatty pork stomach and medium boiled eggs stewed in a broth-like sauce made overnight of young coconut juice and fish sauce (nước mắm). It is often eaten with pickled bean sprouts and chives, and white rice.
Cherry Blossom flower. Hoa mai.Traditionally, each family displays cây nêu, 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 Tết 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, some people (especially the elite in the past) also decorate their house with a Prunus mume tree (also called mai in Vietnamese, but referring to a totally different species from Ochna integerrima). In the north or central, the kumquat tree is a popular decoration for the living room during Tết. Its many fruits symbolize the fertility and fruitfulness that the family hopes for in the coming year.
Vietnamese people also decorate their homes with bonsai and flower plants such as chrysanthemum (hoa cúc), marigold (vạn thọ) symbolizing longevity, mào gà in Southern Vietnam and paperwhite flower (thủy tiên), lavender (viôlét), hoa bướm in Northern Vietnam. In the past, there was a tradition that old people tried to make their paperwhite flowers blossom right the watch-night time. They also hung up Dong Ho Paintings and thư pháp (calligraphy pictures).