With Lunar New Year just around the corner, all across Vietnam locals are preparing for a fun-filled week of family, feasts and festivities. Known as Tet, this holiday is undoubtedly the country’s most important and highly anticipated celebration of the year.
The Lunar New Year falls on the second new moon after the winter equinox (between 21 January and 20 February) and signifies the beginning of spring. This year, the first day of Tet is 12 February 2021 and, out of the twelve Vietnamese zodiac signs, marks the year of the buffalo (or ox).
Although Vietnamese Lunar New Year has its origins from Chinese New Year (even lucky money envelopes, lanterns and other decorations are inscribed with Chinese writing), it should be noted that there are slight differences between the two and local Vietnamese may get offended when hearing ‘Chinese New Year’ — best stick to saying ‘Lunar/Vietnamese New Year’ or ‘Tet’.
Family and Superstitions
Because family lies at the front and center of Lunar New Year, every year millions of Vietnamese make a pilgrimage back to their hometown. And with such an outflow of people from large population centres, this is the only time of year where the streets of Saigon and Hanoi are not filled with motorbikes during the daytime – an eerily quiet sight for those who remain in the city.
Preparations for Tet begin well in ahead of time. Around the house, family members attend to gardening, fixing and replacing objects and appliances, putting up decorations and planting red peach blossom trees in the north or yellow apricot blossom trees in the south. Also of particular importance is a thorough ‘spring cleaning’. Because sweeping of the floors is considered taboo during the first few days of the new year (it signifies sweeping out good luck), it is essential for the home to be spotless prior to the celebrations.
The first day of the year is usually reserved for the nuclear family, while friends, colleagues and extended relatives can be visited on subsequent days. And it is recommended not to make any spontaneous visits the first couple days, as it is believed the first person outside of the family to enter the home sets the precedent for the remainder of the year, in regards to fortune. Therefore, the family will carefully choose and invite their first annual visitor – ideally someone of high standing, success and moral values.
Lunar New Year Festivities
Aside from family and tradition, Tet is an exciting time filled with games, socializing, food and celebration.
In recent years, memes about gaining weight over the Lunar New Year are increasingly making their rounds across social media. And that’s because there is an over-abundance of eating and drinking spirits during this extended holiday. Keeping in tune with welcoming the new year with good fortune, it is considered unlucky to turn down food. Typical Tet fares include dried candy fruit, pickled onions and glutinous rice with mung bean and pork wrapped in banana leaf, known as banh chung/banh tet (pictured below left).
Perhaps the most universally recognized symbol of Lunar New Year is the lucky red envelope. After reciting a traditional Tet greeting, children are blessed by their elders with lucky money, or li xi. Another favourite pastime during the new year for both young and old is playing games with dice or cards, often for money. Finally, firecrackers are lit around the house not just for entertainment, but also to ward off evil spirits.
In contrast to the festivities held in private, public spaces are adorned with colourful decorations and floral arrangements. Locals flock to these areas, spruced up in their brand new clothing, to welcome the new year and snap photos. Other communal celebrations include dragon dances, fireworks and drum/gong shows.
Experience Lunar New Year along with a Heritage Line Cruise
Need a reason to visit Vietnam during the Lunar New Year? Heritage Line offers exciting boutique cruises in both the northern and southern regions of Vietnam.
Vietnam’s two largest cities are prime locales for Tet, particularly Hanoi’s Old Quarter and Saigon’s Nguyen Hue walking street. Our cruises near Hanoi explore the majestic beauty of Halong Bay and Lan Ha Bay, while Saigon is the starting or ending point of our lower Mekong River cruises.