As the Year of the Dragon approaches yet again, it brings with it special cultural beliefs that are fascinating to understand, especially for someone that has not experienced them before.

As the Year of the Cat comes to an end, I find that the symbol of the cat aptly reflects my experience of the year. Personally, the Year of the Cat brought neither significant highs nor lows. If I were to sum it up in one word, it would be BORING.

Not totally boring, I was able to have holidays in Nha Trang and Hanoi and I ran in the first-ever marathon in Vinh City under Nghe An Province, 300km south of the Vietnamese capital, in August.

I had the opportunity to embark on several cycling adventures in the southern region, with the highlight being a 140km trek around the countryside outside Ho Chi Minh City.

However, aside from those experiences, the year unfolded with a continuous stream of work. Despite the workload, it wasn’t a bad year overall.

And now I am so excited about the onset of the Year of the Dragon. The dragon is the only one of the 12 animals in the Vietnamese zodiac that is a mythical creature, and this brings with it cultural beliefs. 

A statue of the dragon is seen at the 2024 Nguyen Hue Flower Street in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

The dragon is the fifth of 12 zodiac animals and is a mythical creature revered for its strength, wisdom, and power. The dragon is associated with nobility, success, prosperity, and good luck in Vietnamese culture.

Those born in the Year of the Dragon are believed to be energetic, charismatic, intelligent, and ambitious. And this explains the explosion of classes in grade one every 12 years.

Many Vietnamese couples all over the world set out to have a child in the Year of the Dragon because they reckon that their child will grow with abilities and opportunities not seen in children born in other years.

Outside of the family, the Year of the Dragon is seen as a real power year for business and big decisions. It is said that opening a business this year will bring good luck and success.

Making significant personal decisions such as buying a home, investing, or starting to study in the Year of the Dragon is often associated with the symbolic strength of the mythical creature.

Many believe that these decisions come with a perceived helping hand, contributing to success and prosperity.

Workers are seen completing the installation of dragon statues in preparation for the inauguration of the 2024 Nguyen Hue Flower Street. The event is scheduled to take place from 7:00 pm on February 7 to 9:00 pm on February 14 in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

So, as Tet rolls closer, everything begins to change in cities and towns across Vietnam. For any expat or tourist this is a sight to behold. They say it is like Christmas, Easter, New Year, and your birthday all rolled into one week, and that is about right. 

As February comes to a close, you must see brightly colored red and yellow flowers everywhere. The streets and villages across the country light up with the colors of hope and prosperity.

A particularly good experience is the flower display that will pop up on Nguyen Hue Street in Ho Chi Minh City for around two weeks over the Tet period. It is a magical display that is a must-see for locals and visitors alike. 

The 2024 Nguyen Hue Flower Street is decorated with a dragon theme in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

One of the aspects I cherish most during this period is the peace and quiet.

The streets of Ho Chi Minh City fall almost silent as many residents leave the city for their hometowns to be with family during this special time of the year.

For photographers, it presents a unique opportunity to capture stunning images of Ho Chi Minh City in a different light and atmosphere.

But, for those with Vietnamese families, it is the time to come together and show your respect for the elderly and support for the young.

Vietnamese culture beautifully emphasizes a deep admiration for the elders of a family, and during this time of the year, everyone makes a special effort to express that respect and admiration.

This is done through gestures such as offering lucky money and spending quality time with family members, especially those they may not have seen throughout the entire year.

The season is also a time for playing cards and indulging in foods that some Westerners may find a bit challenging.

Personally, it’s the time of the year when we visit around 10 family homes, and at each one, we’re generously offered beer and various dishes.

The expectation is to eat and drink as a gesture of respect to the hosting family.

As I approach my tenth Tet holiday season in Vietnam, I eagerly welcome the Year of the Dragon with anticipation for the adventures and opportunities that lie ahead in the coming year.

The symbolic strength and power of the dragon are set to continue influencing and shaping the community for years to come.

As the dragon descends upon us, we also bid farewell to the Year of the Cat, a year that didn’t leave us with much to talk about in the realms of adventure and memories.

A statue of the dragon is placed next to a message that reads ‘Happy New Year’ in Vietnamese at the 2024 Nguyen Hue Flower Street in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

I want to be the first to wish everyone Chuc Mung Nam Moi (Happy New Year), and may the Year of the Dragon exceed all expectations. May prosperity and success accompany you in every challenge. May you discover adventure and embrace the road less traveled in every path you take. And as for the people you encounter, may each person bring a smile and the love that is the very heart of Vietnam.

We have wonderful times ahead and I wish you a bucket full of happiness in the Year of the Dragon.