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Celebrating Vietnam Tet Holiday: Traditions, Customs, and Tourist Activities

Vietnam Tet Holiday, also known as the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, is the most significant and anticipated festival in Vietnam. Marking the arrival of spring and the beginning of a new lunar year, Tet is a time for family reunions, honoring ancestors, and celebrating with traditional foods and customs. 

This article delves into the essence of Tet, exploring its history, traditions, and the myriad ways tourists can experience the vibrancy of this cultural celebration.

Vietnam Tet Holiday – Basic Information

What is Tet Holiday? Vietnam Tet Holiday History

Tet, short for Tet Nguyen Dan, translates to “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day”. This festival is Vietnam’s Lunar New Year, deeply rooted in agricultural practices and ancient traditions, with history spanning thousands of years. Influenced by the Chinese lunar calendar but uniquely Vietnamese, Tet symbolizes renewal and hope, marking the end of the old year and the beginning of a new one.

Vietnam Tet Holiday is celebrated between late January and February, with dates changing annually; for instance, in 2024, Tet will be on February 10th. The holiday typically lasts seven to nine days, starting a week before the lunar New Year’s Eve and extending into the first days of the new lunar year. The lead-up to Tet, known as “Tất Niên,” involves intense preparation and anticipation. Families clean and decorate their homes, make offerings to ancestors, and prepare traditional foods. The climax of Tet celebrations occurs on New Year’s Eve, with fireworks and various rituals to welcome the new year. The first three days of Tet are spent visiting family, friends, and temples, each day holding its own significance.

Tet’s essence lies in its traditions, including family reunions, ancestral worship, and the preparation of special dishes like Banh Chung and Banh Tet. It’s a time for Vietnamese people to honor their heritage, seek blessings, and look forward to a prosperous new year.

Is Tet a Good Time to Visit Vietnam?

The answer is: Yes, Tet is an excellent time to visit Vietnam, and here’s why:

Vibrant and Bustling Atmosphere

Tet, or Vietnamese Lunar New Year, is the biggest celebration of the year in Vietnam, and it’s marked by a multitude of vibrant festivals and cultural events. Each region has its unique way of celebrating, providing visitors with a rich tapestry of experiences. In the North, you can witness traditional dances and rituals such as the Dao People’s New Year Dance Festival in Sapa. In Central Vietnam, festivals like the Tich Dien Doi Son Festival in Ha Nam offer a glimpse into ancient agricultural practices and ancestral reverence. Meanwhile, the South is alive with events like the Nguyen Tieu Festival in Hoi An, celebrating the first full moon of the new year with lantern releases and cultural performances. These festivals are a fantastic way to immerse yourself in Vietnamese culture and traditions, offering a unique and festive atmosphere that is unparalleled.

Beautifully Decorated Streets

During Tet, Vietnam’s streets transform into a visual feast. Cities and towns across the country are adorned with stunning decorations that include vibrant lights, colorful flowers, and intricate sculptures. These decorations are specifically put up for Tet and are only available during the holiday season. Major cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Danang are particularly spectacular, with main streets, public squares, and historical sites all dressed up in their Tet best. Flower markets bloom with a riot of colors, featuring peach blossoms in the North, apricot blossoms in the South, and kumquat trees symbolizing prosperity. The sight of these beautifully decorated streets not only enhances the festive mood but also provides numerous photo opportunities for visitors looking to capture the essence of Vietnamese celebrations.

Amazing Tet Food

Tet is a culinary delight, featuring a range of traditional foods that are both delicious and culturally significant. Many of these dishes are only available during the Tet holiday, making it a special time for food enthusiasts. In the North, you can savor Banh Chung, a square-shaped sticky rice cake filled with mung beans and pork, symbolizing the Earth. Central Vietnam offers Banh Tet, a cylindrical rice cake similar to Banh Chung but with its own regional twist. Other Tet delicacies include Gio Lua (Vietnamese pork sausage), Xoi Gac (red sticky rice), and various pickled vegetables like Dua Mon. In the South, specialties such as Thit Kho Tau (braised pork belly) and Canh Kho Qua (stuffed bitter melon soup) are must-tries. These dishes not only highlight the culinary diversity of Vietnam but also carry symbolic meanings of prosperity, health, and happiness. Sampling Tet food is a culinary journey that provides deep insights into Vietnamese culture and traditions.

What Do Vietnamese Do During Tet Holiday?

Home Preparations

  • Cleaning and Decorating: Vietnamese people thoroughly clean their homes to get rid of bad luck from the previous year. This practice, known as “Tất Niên,” involves sweeping, dusting, and washing everything. Homes are then decorated with peach blossoms in the North and apricot blossoms in the South, along with kumquat trees and red or gold ornaments symbolizing prosperity and good fortune.
  • Setting Up Ancestral Altars: Families prepare altars with offerings such as fruits, sweets, and incense to honor their ancestors. This act invites the spirits of the ancestors to join the celebration, ensuring their blessings for the new year.

New Year’s Eve Traditions, Cultural Activities and Tradition

  • Midnight Ceremony: On New Year’s Eve, a special ceremony called “Giao Thừa” is held to say goodbye to the old year and welcome the new one. Families gather to offer prayers, light incense, and make offerings to the gods and ancestors.
  • Lion and Dragon Dances: These performances are common during Tet and are believed to bring good luck and drive away evil spirits. The dances are vibrant and energetic, featuring elaborate costumes and rhythmic drumming.
  • Visiting Pagodas and Temples: Many Vietnamese visit pagodas and temples to pray for health, wealth, and happiness in the new year. These visits are often accompanied by making offerings and participating in various ceremonies.
  • Tet Markets: Leading up to Tet, markets are bustling with activity. These markets sell everything needed for the celebrations, including food, flowers, decorations, and new clothes. Visiting these markets offers a unique glimpse into the local culture and festive preparations.

Family and Social Visits

  • First Day: The first day of Tet is dedicated to immediate family. It’s a time for family reunions, with members gathering to exchange best wishes and red envelopes (“lì xì”) containing money, which symbolizes luck and prosperity.
  • Second Day: The second day is for visiting friends and extended family. It’s a time to reconnect with relatives, share stories, and continue the festive celebrations.
  • Third Day: The third day is reserved for visiting teachers and business associates. This day reflects the deep respect Vietnamese people have for education and professional relationships.

Vietnam Tet Holiday‘s Traditional Food

Vietnam Tet Holiday  is celebrated with a variety of traditional foods, each region offering unique dishes that reflect its cultural and culinary practices. Here’s a look at the distinctive Tet foods from Northern, Central, and Southern Vietnam.

Tet Holiday Food in the North

  • Chung Cake (Banh Chung): This square-shaped cake symbolizes the earth and is indispensable during Tet in Northern Vietnam. Made from glutinous rice, mung beans, and pork, it’s wrapped in banana leaves and boiled for hours.
  • Xoi Gac: A sticky rice dish characterized by its vibrant red color, symbolizing luck and happiness. It’s often served during Tet feasts.
  • Vietnamese Pork Roll (Gio Lua): Typically placed at the center of the Tet feast, this savory roll made from pork paste is a symbol of harmony and abundance.
  • Dried Bamboo Shoot Soup (Canh Mang): Reflecting the culinary traditions of Vietnamese ancestors, this soup is a staple during Tet, combining bamboo shoots with pork or chicken.

Tet Holiday Food in the Central

  • Banh Tet: Similar to banh chung but cylindrical, these rice cakes are filled with glutinous rice, mung beans, and pork, symbolizing fullness and completeness.
  • Pickled Vegetables (Dua Mon): A mix of sweet, sour, and crunchy vegetables like carrots and papaya, often enjoyed with banh tet.
  • Meat Marinated in Fish Sauce: A popular preparation in many Central Vietnamese provinces, this dish involves marinating meat in fish sauce, enhancing its rich flavor.
  • Vietnamese Beef Roll (Cha Bo): These beautifully red-pink chunks of beef roll are commonly found on Tet tables in Central Vietnam, offering a savory and festive delight.

Tet Holiday Food in the South

Banh Tet – The signature Tet food of the Central and the South
  • Banh Tet: As in Central Vietnam, banh tet is a must-have during Tet in the South, symbolizing prosperity and family unity.
  • Vietnamese Braised Pork Belly (Thit Kho Tau): A large pot of braised pork belly, simmered with eggs in a caramelized sauce, is prepared as a sign of prosperity and family togetherness.
  • Stuffed Bitter Melon Soup (Canh Kho Qua): Commonly found on Southern Tet tables, this soup symbolizes overcoming difficulties and welcoming happiness and good fortune.
  • Chinese Sausage (Lap Xuong): Popular during Tet in Southern Vietnam, these sausages are known for their delicious, fragrant taste and can be prepared in various ways.

Vietnam Tet Holiday is a time of rich culinary traditions, with each region offering unique and meaningful dishes that celebrate the New Year. From the savory pork rolls and bamboo shoot soup in the North to the rich and bold flavors of meat marinated in fish sauce in the Central region, and the symbolic stuffed bitter melon soup and braised pork belly in the South, Tet food reflects the diversity and cultural richness of Vietnam. 

Vietnam Festivals During Tet Holiday – What Can You Do?

The Vietnam Tet Holiday is a time of vibrant cultural celebrations, with festivals held across the country that attract many participants. These festivals are an opportunity for people to pray for peace and happiness for themselves and their families. Here are some of the most popular Tet festivals and detailed information about each:

Dao People’s New Year Dance Festival

  • Location: Sapa
  • Date: 1st and 2nd days of the Lunar New Year

This festival features 14 distinct traditional dances of the Dao people. Participants gather around fires to celebrate, singing, dancing, and rejoicing together. The dances are performed in traditional attire and are accompanied by the rhythmic sounds of drums and gongs, creating a lively and festive atmosphere.

Perfume Pagoda Festival

  • Location: My Duc, Hanoi
  • Date: From the 6th day of the Lunar New Year to the end of the third lunar month

This is one of the most famous traditional Tet festivals in Vietnam, attracting numerous tourists. Visitors embark on a pilgrimage to the Buddhist sacred sites, taking a boat ride along the Yen Stream to the Perfume Pagoda. The festival involves prayers, rituals, and offerings to Buddha, as well as enjoying the scenic beauty of the area.

Dong Ky Village Firecracker Parade

  • Location: Bac Ninh
  • Date: 4th to 7th day of the Tet holiday

The festival features a parade of traditional relics and the burning of firecrackers, symbolizing the warding off of evil spirits and welcoming good fortune. Various cultural performances and traditional games are also part of the celebration, showcasing the local heritage and community spirit.

Tich Dien Doi Son Festival

  • Location: Ha Nam
  • Date: 5th to 7th day of the 1st Lunar Month

This festival reflects reverence for ancestral origins and has a long history. It includes rituals to honor the agricultural gods, plowing contests, and traditional performances. The event symbolizes the start of a new farming season and hopes for a bountiful harvest.

Dong Da Festival

  • Location: Hanoi
  • Date: 5th day of the 1st Lunar Month

Commemorating the victories of King Quang Trung, the festival features drum performances and reenacts the historical events of nation-building and defense. Participants dress in historical costumes and engage in martial arts displays, celebrating national pride and historical heritage.

Additional Tet Festivals

  • Yen Tu Pagoda Tet Festival: Held in Quang Ninh, this festival involves a pilgrimage to Yen Tu Mountain, a significant Buddhist site.
  • Cau Ngu Festival: In Danang, this festival celebrates fishermen and their livelihood with boat races and offerings to the sea gods.
  • Sinh Village Wrestling Festival: Held in Hue, this festival features traditional wrestling matches, attracting many spectators.
  • Duc Thanh Tran Temple Festival: Located in Ho Chi Minh City, this festival honors the national hero Tran Hung Dao with rituals and cultural performances.
  • Nguyen Tieu Festival: Celebrated in Hoi An, this festival marks the first full moon of the new year with lantern releases and cultural activities.
  • Dinh Ba Ong Lang Festival: In Phu Quoc, this festival honors the local deity Ba Ong Lang with ceremonies and community gatherings.

These festivals offer tourists a unique opportunity to experience the rich cultural heritage and communal spirit of Vietnam during the Tet Holiday.

Final Thoughts

Vietnam Tet Holiday is a profound cultural experience that offers a glimpse into the country’s rich traditions and communal values. For tourists, Tet is an opportunity to immerse themselves in the vibrant celebrations, enjoy traditional foods, and participate in cultural events. 

To ensure a memorable and authentic experience, consider booking your trip with Viland Travel, a reputable travel agency known for excellent service and in-depth local knowledge. Embrace the spirit of Tet and make your next vacation an unforgettable journey into Vietnam’s cultural heart.

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Lucas Luong
Hi, my name is Lucas, and I proudly describe myself as a traveloholic since I have always had a great passion for travel. When I was a child, I had the opportunity to experience many lands in Vietnam. My parents are lovers of adventure travel, so I think I also inherited that spirit from them. Growing up with a love of travel and diverse cultures, I have been constantly traveling throughout Vietnam, Southeast Asia, and many countries in Europe for the opportunity to find and experience the cultural differences between countries. Traveling is an important part of my freedom-driven lifestyle, so working in the travel industry is something I've always wanted to do.